The final straw – I quit

Published by Lucy Gower on

phnIn my last blog I told you about my phone call to cancel my regular donation to a charity that I had supported for over 10 years. Jo the person I spoke to on the supporter care line was so helpful and friendly that I decided to continue my support after all.

I was told at the end of my call that it would take a couple of months to get back into the ‘system’.

Two months to get me in a ‘system’ is a) ages and b) made me feel totally undervalued.  Anyhow, I decided to wait and see what happened.

Nothing happened.

I called the charity (which remains nameless) to cancel at the end of February. I had recently been travelling and hoped that when I returned in JUNE there would be some correspondence waiting for me, perhaps thanking me for staying on board or giving me an update on how my support had made a difference. (Imagine that?!)

There was nothing.

The week I returned from my travels, I went for dinner with my mum. She mentioned that someone had phoned asking for me, which was really weird because I left home over 15 years ago.

She said it was this charity. It would appear that I was in some sort of system but obviously, not the right one. This only added to my annoyance, I was waiting to be back in ‘the system’ yet the same charity were still calling my parents house over a decade after I had left.

Last month I called to cancel. First, when I got through to the Supporter Care line (lets call her Clare) couldn’t find my record. Then after I provided my bank details she discovered that I was a ‘duplicate’. I’m not sure what’s worse – being in a ‘system’ or being a ‘duplicate’.

I asked to cancel. Clare said she was sorry and enquired why I had made such a decision after 10 years of support. I explained that I was annoyed because they were calling my parents over 10 years since I left home (although I suspect that this was totally unrelated to my last call due to the duplicate situation) and that I hadn’t received any correspondence since my last call in February.

Clare explained that after my last call I had been set up to receive quarterly mailings, but since those quarterly mailings were prepared in advance; I hadn’t made the last ‘batch’. Perfect, now I’m in a BATCH.

Clare told me I had to call my bank in order to cancel my regular payment. At no point did she thank me for supporting for so long or tell me that my support was vital or important for the charity to continue with their work. She did nothing to inspire me to stay. I wanted to be convinced to stay.

When I called my bank, the representative questioned my decision to cancel. He said, ‘are you sure you want to cancel – you have made 152 payments – that’s a long time and  adds up to quite a lot?’ I felt that my bank were more upset about my decision than the charity.

If I’m sharing my experience today; it is so you can ensure your organisation is not making the same mistakes. Could I be telling a story about the charity that you work for that:

·        Uses internal jargon language when talking to supporters that makes them feel undervalued like batch, system and duplicate. Small changes in language can make a difference to how supporters feel.

·        Has duplicate records so supporters get inconsistent asks. Is your data as clean as it can possibly be, do you check it regularly?

·        Has slow systems that do not respond to supporters’ needs, the ‘system’ did not work for me; over four months with no correspondence in this situation is totally unacceptable.

·        Doesn’t enable staff to operate outside of a ‘system’. It felt like Clare in the supporter care team was reading from a script, if she had underlined wha

t I had given over the years, or the number of payments I had made (as my bank did), perhaps she could have persuaded me to stay.

I’m disappointed that this charity has failed to keep my support. But more upset that with this level of customer care, other supporters may leave too, which over time will impact on the services they are able to deliver and the people that they are able to help.

I wonder if it takes months to get out of the system too. I expect I will get my first quarterly mailing this autumn… 3 months from now.


Lucy Gower

Lucy has been a fundraiser for over 10 years and is passionate about innovation and how it can transform organisational and individual performance. Lucy is an independent trainer and consultant specializing in innovation in fundraising. Lucy also blogs for fundraising website sofii.org and is a conference speaker both in the UK and overseas.


Nick · July 22, 2013 at 14:33

A depressing read to any charity fundraiser, not least the charity in question, if only they knew!

Lots to agree with here, but what would be extra helpful would be to have a case study of a charity that manages not to make everything so systematic and with a good use of resources (I assume one exists but haven’t come across them myself yet). In general, systems exist to streamline processes and ensure the best use is made of income. There is arguably a trade off between being donor-centric and being efficient. If any charity manages both really well at the same time, please can we hear about them?

Of course, the words used and the tones taken by supporter care teams are really important and that is the biggest failing that comes from the above article and it is understandable how that would anger any supporter, but it would be great to find out about a charity that really does supporter care excellently, and how they do it.

    Lucy · July 22, 2013 at 18:30

    Thanks Nick, I will discretely alert the charity involved in order that they have the opportunity to improve.

    Totally agree – if anyone has an example of great process that is efficient and also gives the donor a good experience, then please share. I too am yet to find one.

Sarah · July 22, 2013 at 16:26

Thanks for sharing Lucy! You’re so right! Supporters want to know they’re appreciated and valued, not feeling like there one of many (as we all tend to feel when we call large corporations.) I’m a bit jealous of your bank! Wish we and service like that in the US. Thank you again for sharing and good luck getting out of the “system.”

    Lucy · July 22, 2013 at 18:31

    Thanks Sarah – to be honest I was rather surprised at my banks response! That is not usual – but added fuel to my rant!

Rowena Lewis · July 23, 2013 at 11:03

What a disappointing experience Lucy but what a terrific blog. I reckon you’ve hit a nerve for the sector. When working on the Philanthropy Review I was shocked by the number of supporter care horror stories that were shared – thank you letters arriving six months late, sometimes not at all. We get so tied up in systematising donors that we forget to treat them as individuals, let alone valued supporters.

    Lucy Gower · July 23, 2013 at 18:12

    Thanks Rowena. Since I wrote this blog several people have shared similar rubbish experiences. Its been enlightening – but not in a good way. I think you are right – a nerve has been hit…..

David Dixon · July 23, 2013 at 12:46

Great post Lucy! Unfortunately I believe that the customer/donor care of many charities, including household names, is as bad as this or worse.

    Lucy Gower · July 23, 2013 at 18:13

    Thanks David – I’m sorry to say that I think you are right. :(

Eoghan O'Sullivan · July 23, 2013 at 22:37

Thanks Lucy,
Having met you I can can attest that you are not a ‘Batch’! Perhaps before contacting the charity to let them know about your experience you could check out their website. Assuming that your donations have been reasonably consistent in the value given you can make a quick valuation as to what the figure that “adds up to quite an amount” will do for the charity. We all try to communicate to donors X amount will help us do X & Y so I am sure your donation is probably listed there somewhere.
Still, short sighted as it is if you believe in the work of the charity that you are supporting, giving them this info may be more valuable then your previous 10 years worth.
Hope to meet you over here in Ireland again some time. If you can’t make it send your ‘Duplicate’.

    Lucy · July 24, 2013 at 08:48

    Thanks Eoghan – I’m sure me or my duplicate will be back in Ireland again some time soon!

Dawn weathersbee · July 24, 2013 at 00:59

I have been a fundraiser, and will do it again for good causes. I happen to love campaigns and

While all of this is really important from the perspective of keeping accurate data, the tone leads to one question:

Do we support good causes because they have good impact, or because we want to be treated a certain way?

One of the reasons I left full-time fundraising, having to deal with, “I gave YOU money for the way you treat ME!” This post is all about the ME! Yuck.

While I agree with needing to treat supporters like appreciated people, I don’t agree with withdrawing support because some poor data manager hasn’t received training on how to talk to you so that you feel special. Especially because most of these low-payed people inherit management of crazy databases whose upkeep hasn’t been appropriately managed for years. Most people dealing with current databases haven’t been in the position long enough to know which “duplicate” is accurate.

Maybe having compassion for that person is a better response. One issue I hope that my supporters could see past if my charity does, indeed, have a great impact on the BENEFICIARIES, whom you should be highlighting n your fundraising. .

Perhaps if there is a communications strategy in place showcasing the great work, these slights to supporters egos won’t have such a negative impact. Or, perhaps, you can fundraise to pay for the immensely arduous and time consuming task of cleaning up a database which most likely has no certain way of knowing with data is actually accurate, besides educated guessing. Hmmm…maybe supporters would pay for that, so they could receive a phone call at their proper phone number?

John Lehman · July 25, 2013 at 16:19

a funny blog, but i have to agree with Dawn, really how much do you give a month? why did you want to cancel your regular gift really? looks like you are pitching for your next job!!!

    Lucy · July 25, 2013 at 16:55

    Hi John and Dawn,

    We won’t agree in this topic, but John the answers to your questions are in my previous two blog posts on 101funsraising.

    Best wishes


Abigail Reeves. · July 27, 2013 at 12:06

Why would the charity remain nameless?

Would your telecom provider remain nameless?

These people are being paid valuable admin costs – it is essential they do a job properly and justify their salaries.

This might have been a good wake up call for them. But now they get away with it.

An otherwise excellent article.

    Lucy · July 28, 2013 at 23:36

    Hi Abigail – thanks for your comments. I didn’t want the blog to be about naming and shaming a charity – but more to encourage people to think if donors to their charity might be having similar experiences. I have let the charity know directly so they have the opportunity to make changes… Best wishes Lucy

Thomas · July 28, 2013 at 11:36

Dear Lucy,

Unfortunately your post is very familiar. Part of the problem are efficiency, outsourcing and short term thinking. Charities sometimes forget the impact of each contact with donors.

    Lucy · July 28, 2013 at 23:38

    Hi Thomas – yes agree, efficiency of a system with a personal experience – its a delicate operation that can find a way to do both….

Doug Potkin · August 15, 2013 at 16:04

Hi Lucy
I’m really struck by the potential to offend supporters by careless use of internal language. It’s really made me consider tightening up on this and reducing this risk to a minimum.
I am looking for innovative ways of reminding ourselves and the organisation that we revolve around the effectiveness our personal relationship with our supporters as real people!

    Lucy · August 31, 2013 at 20:31

    Thanks for your comments Doug – I’d love to know how you get on – and if you make any changes. Lucy

Gary · August 22, 2013 at 18:09


Did you send this to the charity in question? I’m sure whoever manages their front-line support would be happy to hear it.

    Lucy · August 31, 2013 at 20:33

    Hi Gary

    I did indeed let the Director of Fundraising know, who was pleased to be informed – and they are looking at how to make it better for supporters…. Lucy

Jenny Sheriff · September 2, 2013 at 10:56

Now you need to see if you enter the “lapsed – reactivation file”! This is all too common – my partner signed up (encouraged by me) to support a well known charity when we were stopped by a brilliant F2F fundraiser. She donated for over a year and had received nothing since the ‘welcome pack’, so decided to cancel her DD. Unfortunately the charity have never called or written to say thank you, ask why she has cancelled or tried to get her back. She tells the story every time the word charity comes up and since I work for one that’s quite often! Now I’ve started telling the story! It’s such an important part of fundraising, we should all feel mortally wounded when we receive a DD cancellation and try to find out why and what we have done to make this happen.
When I worked for a different charity, my housemate cancelled his DD because (I knew) he was saving to move house, he received a reactivation letter posted to our house within 2 days, he told me as I was cooking dinner! Until we treat people like we would want to be treated it won’t get better. I hope they pull their socks up and get you back!

    Lucy · September 2, 2013 at 11:08

    I received a Gift Aid your donation letter a couple of weeks ago – so it would seem I’m still in the original batch! And good point – I have had no correspondence to try and get me back.

    Thanks for sharing your experience Jenny – and agree that when someone cancels its an opportunity to put something right – or at least understand why they cancelled. I think a lot of sock pulling up will be needed to get me back – and I’m waiting in anticipation. And I’ll share any developments!

Even As A Charitable Cause, You Need Customer Service. | Gerard V - Comedy Stage Hypnotist - Australia and New Zealand · November 25, 2013 at 07:00

[…] It never fails to astonish me how some charitable causes fail to recognise the need to give good service. Basically, if giving is made too hard or too unpleasant, people will choose not to give, or to give elsewhere. I was reminded of this fact again when I read this article. […]

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