Getting Used to Complaints

Listen to complaints.

There’s a stage every medium to large nonprofit (that’s reliant on individual donors for a significant portion of its income) goes through as they grow.

The nonprofit gets used to complaints.

These organizations know that, once they reach a certain number of donors, they are going to receive complaints. It’s a certainty. There’s no way NOT to receive complaints because of the number of humans involved.

(It’s good to remember that fundraising often reveals tension that the donor holds. That tension usually results in a gift, and sometimes results in a complaint.)

When an organization that accepts complaints as a “cost of doing business” receives a complaint, they respond warmly. There’s a process, and the complaint is given the attention it deserves (no more and no less). The organization knows that a complaint is often more about the complainer than the organization. And the organization has boundaries so Complainers are listened to but not given undue power.

Then the organization continues to execute its communication strategy. No changes are made. The water rolls right off the duck’s back. They keep raising more money every year.

On the other hand… if a complaint comes into an organization that values never receiving complaints, a ruckus ensues. The complaint and the Complainer are somehow interpreted to be speaking for all donors. The thousands of dollars that came in at the same time as the complaint are basically ignored. Communication content and strategy are changed.

And the organization manages itself to remain smaller than it could be.

Complaints are a cost of doing business. Complaints are a fee, not a fine. Understand that complaints are going to happen, develop a process and a mindset to respond appropriately, and keep growing.

Your beneficiaries are counting on you to put up with a little noise in order to do more good.

Read the series:

  1. Getting Used to Complaints (this post)
  2. Outline for How to Respond to a Complaint
  3. Not All Complaints are Equal
  4. Natural, But Not Productive
  5. The Two Times Smaller Orgs Get More Complaints
  6. So. Many. Reasons. To. Complain.
  7. The Harmful Big Assumption
  8. Turning Complaints into Gifts
  9. “Friendly Fire” — Complaints from Internal Audiences
  10. Our Final Thoughts on Complaints

Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

10 comments on “Getting Used to Complaints

  1. Thank you for this! It’s especially true for nonprofits with a small donorbase. Every appeal, email, information I send out seems to be met with a new donor complaint. I answer them as politely and business like as I can, but it always surprises me what they choose to complain about. I love your suggestion to think of it as a “cost of doing business” and will re-frame my thinking in that way!

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