The charity that wanted to get complaints

I started working with a new client right at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis.

The organization had been around for 50 years, and had a confirmed habit of doing all their fundraising work in-house. Outsourcing to someone like me was strange and new.

Despite the uncertainty of the time, we agreed to a list of goals for the coming year. Most of those goals would have been somewhere between achievable and a stretch — in a normal year.

We had no idea how realistic they were at the time.

But the last goal on the list, inserted by the CEO at the end of the planning process was this:

Get more complaints.

Our goals required that we ramp up the quantity and quality of fundraising campaigns to a new level. When you do that, you get complaints. It’s pretty much inevitable. In fact, if you aren’t getting complaints, you probably aren’t maximizing your connection with donors.

Even so, the courage of having complaints as a stated goal frankly stunned me.

After all these years of telling fundraisers that strong fundraising always generates complaints, a boss believed me, and ran with it.

What has happened?

We’re meeting the goals. Smashing some of them.

Including getting more complaints. We’ve got around 10 complaints. Which, if you think about it, is freaky low.

But they’re still complaints, and that is scary for many leaders.

As you plan for the coming year, I urge you to have a goal of generating more complaints.

That will inspire you to be brave, to do fundraising that has real impact. And it will prepare you for the complaints when they come in — you’ll be more equipped to handle them effectively.

It is an utterly liberating goal.

Tomorrow: Why complaints are good in fundraising.


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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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