Laws of Fundraising regarding donor complaints

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Donor complaints rule the lives of many fundraisers, a fact that is captured by the 5th Law of Fundraising:

Donor complaints are a stronger force than anything described in physics or quantum mechanics.

But that’s not all. Here’s the 1st Addendum to the 5th Law:

Imagined donor complaints are an even stronger force than that.

You have probably seen this force at work: Three donors calling to complain about something in your fundraising will outweigh the hundreds or thousands of donors who responded to that same thing. Angry comments about a particular photo, or a shade of red, or the decorations on a sheet of mailing labels can send some fundraisers into a tizzy of self-recrimination and a lifetime ban against those things, even if they were proven to be effective.

But even more powerful: When someone says, We can’t do that; donors will complain! It doesn’t matter if anyone might complain or not. The possibility can cause sweeping and often destructive decisions about fundraising.

This is captured by the Einsteinian Quantification of the 5th Law:

D > LTVc2

That is, the Damage caused by a donor’s complaint is greater than that donor’s projected lifetime value, times the speed of light, squared. (Many fundraising scientists think the Einsteinian Quantification is too optimistic.)

One of the notable feature of the 5th Law is which donors complain. They are frequently not your best donors. As described by the 1st Corollary to the 5th Law:

The likelihood that a donor will complain is inversely proportional to the donor’s monetary value.

In other words, complaints most often come from low-dollar donors, deeply lapsed donors, and even non-donors.

Likewise, what donors complain about is not random. The 2nd Corollary to the 5th Law states:

The number and intensity of donor complaints is directly proportional to the effectiveness of the fundraising campaign they are about.

That is, donors rarely complain about minor and unimportant fundraising initiative. They go after the large and important ones.

Here are two additional useful corollaries to the 5th Law about the complaining donors themselves:

If there’s a donor who hates everything about your fundraising and constantly complains about it … that person is your board president’s best friend.

If you make a really terrible errors in fundraising — especially in direct mail — it will most likely affect cranky donors who are already annoyed with you.

More Laws of Fundraising here.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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