Natural, But Not Productive


It’s good to recognize that it’s natural to focus on complaints.

Unfortunately, it’s also natural to focus too much on complaints.

Here’s a story I just heard that illustrates this perfectly.

A famous person went to a basketball game in New York. They were shown on the jumbotron and the arena erupted in applause.

And as they were leaving the game, a heckler let them have it for a few seconds.

This person spent the entire limo ride home talking about the heckler and reliving those few seconds. The applause was never mentioned.

The famous person forgot about the avalanche of positive feedback and focused on the one negative.

A lot of nonprofits have the same reaction to a complaint; they forget about all the gifts that came in, and they focus on the one negative. (Funny thought: if the famous person were a smaller nonprofit, couldn’t you see one of their Board Members saying, “Well, you certainly can’t ever go to a basketball game again”?!?)

It’s part of the human condition to put more attention to negative information than positive information. It’s natural, but not productive.

As people who are fundraising on behalf of beneficiaries and causes, our reaction to a complaint must be more emotionally sophisticated than, “Well, we need to make sure that never happens again.”

In the same way you & I know that the person at the game shouldn’t let one heckler be more important than an arena full of people applauding… we also know that we shouldn’t let one complaint be more important than 100 gifts. Or 10. Or even 1.

Read the series:

  1. Getting Used to Complaints
  2. Outline for How to Respond to a Complaint
  3. Not All Complaints are Equal
  4. Natural, But Not Productive (this post)
  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.

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