So. Many. Reasons. To. Complain.


Donors complain for all sorts of reasons.

To illustrate, I’ve compiled a list of complaints that we at Better Fundraising have seen firsthand.

For context, all of these complaints were received by nonprofits that were growing, raising more money, and achieving more of their mission work than ever before.

Let’s get to the list. All of these are real complaints…

  • The donor whose spouse had passed away a couple days before and they couldn’t believe the organization would send them a letter at a time like this.
  • A donor did not like seeing pictures of what a particular disease did to the people who have it.
  • The donor whose name was spelled incorrectly.
  • The non-donor who did not like that the organization had their home address.
  • The donor (and Board member) who didn’t like being asked to provide matching funds.
  • The email subscriber but non-donor who felt the organization talked about the need for funding too often.
  • The female donor who was annoyed that the organization always put her husband’s name first.
  • The donor who received an appeal the day before from a different organization.
  • The longtime donor who didn’t like that the growing organization is doing more fundraising these days.
  • The donor who didn’t like the way the appeal letter made them feel, so they sent in a complaint and included a gift.
  • The donor who wished the organization would emphasize the positive more often.
  • The donor who complained that they receive too much email from all the charities they support
  • The legacy donor who complained that the organization published her name
  • The legacy donor who complained that the organization did not publish their name

This list could be a lot longer. You’ve almost certainly received a complaint of some kind that isn’t on this list.

Some of the complaints are legit. Some are unique to the complainer’s particular situation.

And remember, all these complaints were received by organizations that were applying fundraising’s virtuous circle to ask people for gifts, thank donors, and reporting back to donors on what their gift helped accomplish. Their overall fundraising was going great.

The Lesson

Once you see a list like this, you begin to realize that many of the complaints organizations receive are unique to the person making the complaint at that time and place in their life.

Their particular set of circumstances + that particular moment in time + your fundraising = their complaint.

In other words, the complainer is speaking only for themselves. They are not speaking for anyone else.

Of course, all complaints should be responded to warmly, and with the right “internal level of reaction.” And of course you want to fix data errors, use people’s preferred salutation, etc.

But too often organizations will receive a complaint, not ask any questions to learn more, and assume, “well if this person complained there must be loads of others who feel the same way.”

If your fundraising is going well, that’s a massive assumption.

Our advice: assume that a complainer is only speaking for themselves until proven otherwise.

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
  5. The Two Times Smaller Orgs Get More Complaints
  6. So. Many. Reasons. To. Complain. (this post)
  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.

One comment on “So. Many. Reasons. To. Complain.

  1. This is a good list of complaints and a good reminder that these individual complaints are just that – the expression of an individual. These blog posts are helping me to “stay the course” and continue to fundraising regularly.

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