I had three main goals when putting this series together. I want organizations to:
- Not fear complaints
- Know how to respond to the complainer
- Have a right-sized internal reaction to complaints
But that’s not easy. Complaints are a scary subject for many organizations.
An organization doesn’t usually just “flip a switch” and become comfortable with complaints. It’s a journey with a handful of ideas on the way:
- It’s natural to focus on complaints, but focusing too much on complaints harms an organization’s ability to raise money.
- For an organization that is reliant on individual donors, to grow past a certain size you have to get used to complaints.
- Complaints are a fee you pay as you do more fundraising and raise more money, not a fine you pay because you’ve done something wrong.
- Have a standardized approach to talking to a person making a complaint. If an organization handles these conversations differently every time, they’ll get different results every time. If you have an approach to follow when talking to a person making a complaint, you’ll get more predictable results and you’ll be able to improve over time.
- Because gifts and complaints are often caused by the same thing, a surprising number of complaints will turn into donations on the spot.
- Set up a system to handle complaints. If you don’t, the emotions and fears of staff members can take over and cause the organization to devote too much energy to them.
- Always respond warmly, but an organization should react to complaints with the appropriate level of response.
- Not all complaints are equal, and some complaints have nothing to do with your organization or its fundraising.
- Some complaints (and/or negative feedback) come from internal audiences. Organizations should manage (and have responses to) those as well
I hope it’s obvious that I’m not saying you should attempt to get complaints. It’s just that, in my experience, every organization that’s reliant on individual donors is going to get a complaint now and again.
So it’s better to have an understanding of what causes complaints, and to know how sophisticated organizations deal with complainers and their complaints.
Furthermore, as organizations grow they begin to see that the better an appeal does, the more likely it is to also generate complaints.
That’s because a great appeal or e-appeal tends to tap into peoples’ emotions. Most people will respond by sending in a gift. But the more people whose emotions you stir, the more likely you are to receive a complaint.
My hope is that organizations will realize that complaints are a cost of doing business for a growing organization. And that receiving the occasional complaint (or even five complaints) is worth it in exchange for raising more money, retaining more donors, and doing more good.
Read the series:
- Getting Used to Complaints
- Outline for How to Respond to a Complaint
- Not All Complaints are Equal
- Natural, But Not Productive
- The Two Times Smaller Orgs Get More Complaints
- So. Many. Reasons. To. Complain.
- The Harmful Big Assumption
- Turning Complaints into Gifts
- “Friendly Fire” — Complaints from Internal Audiences
- Our Final Thoughts on Complaints (this post)