Not All Complaints are Equal

Not all complaints are equal. 

For instance, a complaint from a non-donor who is subscribed to your email newsletter should be given less time and attention than a complaint from a beneficiary or staff member.

So, a smart organization responds differently to different complaints.

As an organization responds to a complaint, there are three main “variables”:

  • Change the level of energy put into the response
  • Change the fundraising the complainer receives in the future
  • Change the fundraising all donors receive in the future

Change the Level of Energy

You can vary how much energy you respond to a complaint with.

For instance, the complainer can receive a pre-written email that acknowledges their complaint and thanks them for submitting it… or be met for coffee and an hour-long conversation… or anywhere in between.

Don’t spend more energy than needed when responding to complaints.

Note: this principle also applies to an organization’s internal response to complaints.  A complaint can kick-start worried discussions and hijack future meetings… or it can be quickly submitted into a system and handled professionally.

Change What the Complainer Receives

You can vary the amount or selection of fundraising you send to the person who complains. 

Perhaps they only want to receive a certain type of your fundraising impacts, like your newsletters but not your appeals.  Or they’d like to receive fewer overall pieces.

Code that person’s record in your CRM appropriately and/or make notes to future list pulls, and move along.

Change What Everyone Receives

You can change all of your fundraising that every donor receives.

This is making changes like, “We can’t ever use that phrase again” or “Let’s reduce the number of mail pieces and emails we send.”

This is the most drastic approach.  It’s the approach that smaller nonprofits tend to gravitate towards because of fears that the complainer is speaking for untold numbers of people.  But it’s the approach least used by larger organizations, because they know that one complainer does not speak for anyone but themselves.

Right-Sized Response

The trick is to right-size your response. 

Our advice is to always value complaints and the person making them.  It’s important to respond warmly  because when a person complains, the response or interaction they have with the organization is often the only customized, personal interaction they’ve ever had with the organization.  The person will form a lot of their opinion about the organization based on this interaction.

And at the same time, respond to each complaint with the right amount of energy and the right level of response. Over-reaction gives recipients more power than they deserve.

In a nutshell, one person’s fundraising preferences should not drive your organization’s fundraising strategy.

Read the series:

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

You Need to *Not* Do Some Things in 2019

All Strategy is Sacrifice

This month we’re posting about the fundraising strategies and tactics that worked well in 2018.

Here’s a piece of hard-won advice: if you want to raise more this year, you need to actively decide not to do some of the things you’ve done in previous years.

Here’s this strategy in a catchy quote:

All strategy is sacrifice.

And here’s how I explain this in a simple decision tree:

  1. You have limited resources (time and money)
  2. You have to decide what to do with your time and money
  3. Which means you also have to decide what not to do with your time and money.

Smaller nonprofits, in my experience, are bad at deciding what not to do. Specifically…

Smaller Nonprofits Have a Hard Time Stopping Doing Things

They have a harder time cutting projects and strategies that are no longer the highest use of limited resources.

I suspect this is mostly because of the collaborative nature of fundraising and communications in small- to medium-sized nonprofits. There’s always somebody who values a thing you’ve done in the past. Here are some recognizable examples:

  • You keep mailing printed annual reports to all donors because some board member or major donor rep says that they simply must have it.
  • You keep doing an event that loses money each year (not to mention the investment of time) because a major donor loves it and has made it their pet project.
  • You write, format and send out an e-newsletter every month because “we have to tell people what we’ve been doing” even though 1 out of 20 people actually open the email.

Sound familiar? And in a collaborative environment, it’s hard to tell stakeholders that their project is going to be cut.

It’s especially hard when the fundraising that’s actually raising the money (and keeping your donors) isn’t well-measured. Because when no one can point to a line on a spreadsheet and say, “Look, THIS is where we raise most of our money, we should do more of this” … then all projects are equal.

And when all projects are equal, the stakeholder with the loudest voice / most passion / highest ranking wins.

Your Nonprofit Needs to Make Hard Choices

Here’s my advice in a nutshell:

Measure and track what really produces your fundraising net revenue.

Then relentlessly focus your resources on doing more of those things.

Be willing to endure some interpersonal conflict in exchange for raising more money and doing more good.

There’s no silver bullet here. For most nonprofits it’s about making hard choices, measuring, and being “sold out” to doing more good – instead of doing what someone thinks is best.

If This Is Your Organization and You Want to Change…

We have one piece of advice for you: measure your fundraising inputs and outputs.

If you don’t already know, figure out how much everything costs and how much everything raises. That’s your preparation for starting the hard conversations.

Data doesn’t always win, but it sure helps. And the practice of gathering and evaluating data is a skill that is incredibly valuable in the nonprofit world.

Final Days of the Sale

Our sale ends in a few days! You can raise more money in 2019, and have more time to focus on important projects, by having Better Fundraising create your appeals, e-appeals and newsletters.

And you can save thousands of dollars.

Visit this page to learn more and fill out a simple form if you’re interested. We’re genuinely excited about how 2018 went for our clients, and would love to work with you in 2019!