How to Handle Donor Complaints

Why PR should matter to everyone on your team

By David Stolberg, Strategist/Senior Account Director

Vince Lombardi, the legendary NFL coach, once famously said, “It takes months to find a customer, seconds to lose one.” The same could be said about finding and retaining new donors. How we treat our donors (or potential ones) – especially how we handle donor complaints – will have an immediate impact on the future success of your organization.

Expanding PR to every person on your team

We often tell our client partners that everyone at the organization, regardless of position, should consider themselves part of the development team. Whether it be the cashier at your thrift store, or the chef serving meals in your dining room, how we conduct ourselves can have a direct correlation on how the public views your organization. A negative perception – or even public news story – that is not controlled well could have a lasting impact on your fundraising efforts.

Damage control during donor acquisition season

Controlling your narrative and handling donor complaints well is never more important than this time of year! Right now, we are in the middle of new donor acquisition season, where we are soliciting potential new donors through traditional direct mail and online campaign strategies. A prospective donor’s perception of your organization might be the deciding factor whether they support you or not.

Donor acquisition season often comes with unavoidable complaints like, “Take me off your mailing list!” It’s possible you may even see up to a 1% response rate from people who are angry for being solicited (e.g., if you send out 100,000 pieces of mail throughout the acquisition season, you may hear from up to 1,000 people asking to be taken off your mailing list).

While your development team is ready to deal with these complaints, often the ones who receive them aren’t. Maybe your receptionist is fielding these calls and is unaware that your organization is participating in campaigns that could lead to an increase in complaints. Perhaps the cashier at your thrift store is getting asked by customers why they received mail from your nonprofit. It is best for all staff to be prepared to respond to donor questions, but never is it more important for your staff to have these tools than during acquisition.

How to handle donor complaints & respond to FAQs

How we handle community questions and complaints not only helps reshape the narrative surrounding your organization, but also has the potential to turn these individuals into financial supporters of your cause! If we are able to convert just 1% of the people that call in to complain and ask to be removed from your mailing list, then not only have we flipped the narrative, but in changing their perspective, we can turn them into strong supporters of your organization!

Your partners at BDI have you covered! We have put together a list of FAQs that you can share with your entire staff that will give them the tools to confidently handle a litany of donor questions and complaints. Whether your receptionist fields a call from a donor asking how their name ended up on your list, or your kitchen chef talks to someone asking why your nonprofit outsources fundraising to an agency, these FAQs can help you prepare.

Remember, everyone on staff can play a role in development, so let’s make sure we all have the tools to succeed! Encourage your staff to read and keep these FAQs handy, as the way they handle donor complaints can establish a positive image of your organization.

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    David Stolberg, Strategist/Senior Account Director

    With 10 years of experience partnering with Rescue Missions and nonprofit organizations, David Stolberg brings his own unique perspective and passion to his role as Account Director and Strategist. Prior to joining the team at BDI, he worked for Nike corporate in sports marketing and worked in sales with a commercial real estate marketing company, and that competitive drive and spirit of innovation still fuels him today.

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