The Promise of Customer Service and of Making a Difference

Published by Karen Osborne on

2 euro coinTwo sides of the same coin.

When we solicit a gift, we are making a promise to our donors.  We promise to manage their money with care.  We pledge to spend it as we agreed, advertised, stated in our appeal.  We promise that the donor’s investment will accomplish something important, change or save a life, protect our planet and its inhabitants, advance our faith and values, achieve real good.

If we are wise, we also promise customer service in addition to making a difference.  At the time of solicitation, we promise to report on the impact the donor has made.  To connect the donor with that outcome.  Donors Choose, for example, makes a promise up front that they will spend your money as agreed or return it to you if they can’t fulfil their promise.  They state on their website that you will hear from the teachers and students your investments support.  In clear, concise language, they promise customer service and making a difference.

Go to your website.  Where are your promises to your donors? Do I have to click on “Donate Now,” before getting to the promise? Is it even there?

Seth Godin wrote a great blog post about making big promises. He talks about how big promises can lead to better experiences.

Not a “giant” promise that strains credulity, but rather a big promise that stretches us and makes us better.  “Human beings have better experiences when they expect to have a better experience. To hold back on your promise is to deprive your customer of something valuable.”

Certainly great stewardship and customer (donor) service is a big promise.  We are promising accountability and transparency but we are also promising personal attention.  We are saying to our donors, “I know who you are (because I asked) and I know what you value (because I listened) and I promise to do right by you while delivering on our mission, vision and work.” 

This past July I was teaching at a weeklong conference.  As part of the program, there was a donor panel of five inspired, joyful, generous donors.  During the Q and A, each donor, at some point in the conversation, described himself or herself as being “all in.”  Those donors who give the most and have the ability to make a transformative difference arrive at the joyful, inspired, generous place because we engaged all of them – their time, mind, experiences, expertise, intellect, contacts and financial ability.  Our big promise to each of them? Your gifts of all kinds matter, are valued and appreciated, and make a huge difference in our work. We need to steward those gifts as well.  Here is what we did with your idea, here is how the time you invested paid off or here is the result of the contact you made on our behalf.  The promise and the delivery on the big promise are equally important.

Joe Connelly of The Wall Street Journal said, “Retention is the new acquisition and customer service is the new marketing.”

This is not new information.  So why are we not delivering on our big promises?  Why isn’t stewardship at the heart of our work?  Here are some steps you can take in 2014 to deliver on the promise of customer service and making a difference.

  1. Assess what you are currently doing.  Want a free tool for a quick assessment? Let us know.

  2. Focus on easy tools for sharing impact and outcomes.  For example, a one-minute video taken with your mobile camera of program staff doing their work, or a beneficiary giving an enthusiastic progress report, or a group of staff saying thank you.  In this age of www.youtube.com we have a high tolerance for amateur video. Keep them fresh, up to date and your tablet.  Send them to board members and volunteers to keep on their mobile phones and tablets.  Devise other simple and creative tools that let donors “see” and “hear” about the difference they are making.

  3. Don’t put all your energy in “thank you.” Thank you is what polite people do.  We thank quickly and well.  If you don’t thank donors in a timely manner, that hurts your program.  But just thanking them well doesn’t necessarily help your program grow.  Sharing impact and outcomes three months, six months, nine months after the gift came in delights donors.  Some recent research suggests that we lose new annual donors within six months of making the gift.  Get that impact report/communication out before then.

  4. Be sure to document donor intentions, motivations and decision makers.  Pick up the phone and call new donors, donors who increased their gifts, returning donors after a hiatus, and top donors.  Personally thank each person for the investment.  Welcome new and returning donors to the family.  Share the big promises of impact and stewardship.  Ask, “What inspired this investment?” “What made this gift possible at this time?” “Who else should we thank?”

  5. Follow-up and follow-through.  A promise made and not kept does more harm than not making the promise at all.  In Stephen M. R. Covey’s book, “The Speed of Trust,”  the author talks about over promising and under delivering as a trust destroyer.  Don’t be afraid of big promises, but do deliver.

When you promise customer service and making a difference, your donors are inspired to give joyfully and generously.  They stay with you over time, leave your organization in their estate plans, and share their joy with others!

Karen Osborne

Internationally recognized as an expert consultant and excellent presenter, Karen receives invitations from all over the United States and the world to make presentations and consult with NGOs, universities, justice, social service, and health organizations. The Council for Support and Advancement of Education (CASE) awarded Karen the Crystal Apple for outstanding teaching and Ashmore Award for Outstanding Service to the Profession. Published and often quoted in industry books, newspapers and magazines, Karen serves on the board of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and teaches a graduate course on philanthropy for Johns Hopkins University.

1 Comment

Dave Miles · March 1, 2023 at 23:21

The real act of communicating with the individual people that support your cause is what they will value the most, regardless of whether you are begging penalty kick online, motivating, or simply having a conversation about the excellent job that your organization is doing.

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