How to turn a complaint into gold

publication date: Sep 6, 2012
author/source: Heather Brown
I bet you've been on the receiving end of a phone call from one of your donors, looking to vent frustration about a recent mailing or telemarketing call from your organization. Heather Brown photo

As you listen to the donor ramble on about how the call was an unwelcome interruption to their dinner ritual or how the mailing was the fifth one this year, you may find yourself zoning out - but listen up! 

From complaint to cultivation

What your donor is trying to tell you is that she cares. She cares enough to pick up the phone and let you know about it! In a marketplace jammed with email messages, Facebook likes, telemarketing calls and direct mail, the fact that you have two minutes of your donor's time is a golden opportunity for you to strengthen her relationship with your organization. 

You want to embrace the opportunity! Of course you want to apologize first if the approach used was upsetting to your donor. Thank her for taking the time to call, and be honest with her. Tell her why you called or mailed, and offer to make a note of her communication preferences.

And be sure to thank her for their loyal support! Tell her how their donations are changing a child's life, keeping Bob off the streets, providing a roof over 15-year-old Trevor's head or helping ensure that Bill and Martha are receiving the kind of care she'd want for her loved ones.

What your donor wants to feel is validated. Often just the act of picking up the phone and complaining can provide instantaneous relief! If you just allow her to vent, I can almost guarantee that when your donor hangs up the phone, your organization will be better off for it.

This month's tip

Turn a complaint call into an opportunity to strengthen a donor's relationship with your organization.

Here's how:
  1. Let your donor tell you what's wrong. Don't try and interrupt, just let him talk. 
  2. Everyone likes to feel that he's been heard. Once the donor is finished speaking, formulate a question that will get him to repeat  what he is upset about.  
  3. Everyone likes to know that what he has said matters. Repeat his complaint, letting him know you have heard him. 
  4. Apologize.
  5. Thank him for taking the time to call and let you know he is upset.
  6. Be honest - tell him what the letter or call hoped to accomplish.
  7. Offer to record his communication preferences.
  8. Thank him for his support and tell him  how his past donations have made a difference.
The next time you receive a call from a disgruntled donor, sit back, relax, and enjoy the opportunity!

After more than 10 years in the nonprofit sector helping to raise money for various worthy charities, Heather Brown decided to join the Good Works team and put her experience to work to help Good Works' clients reach their fundraising goals. She's passionate about direct mail and legacy marketing and strives to help her clients make a positive impact on the community.

Contact Heather by email

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