Why donor complaints are a good sign in fundraising

Yesterday I told you about an organization that made getting complaints one of their goals.

Today I want to tell you a little more about why that’s a good idea.

Because complaints seldom feel okay. Most often, they give you a sense that you were “caught” getting something wrong.

It’s not so bad when you feel the complainer is out to lunch, but it can really get to you when you know or suspect they’re right.

You just have to grit your teeth and take a complaint for what it is: One person having their say. It may be more or less apt or well expressed — but it’s not right or wrong.

Complaints about fundraising are a good sign, because complaints are engagement.

That’s why the most successful campaigns also generate the most complaints.

Here are some complaints you will never get:

  • Your fundraising failed to get my attention.
  • Your fundraising didn’t call me to action.
  • Your fundraising didn’t inspire me to change the world.
  • Your envelope/subject line didn’t get me to open your message.

In each case, you really failed — at least with that particular donor — by failing to generate engagement. The donor won’t complain about that. She can’t! The nature of your failure kept you off her radar.

When you succeed at engagement, you hope it comes in the form of a donation.

But it sometimes doesn’t. Maybe the donor can’t give right now. Or doesn’t want to give right now. Or won’t give to you ever…

But you got her attention, and you made a strong case that she should donate. Now she’s in a state of discomfort: She has information that she should donate, but she can’t or won’t. She is facing something like cognitive dissonance.

Ouch.

So she complains. Can you blame her?

Sometimes the complainer isn’t a donor at all. She’s getting your material more or less by accident.

But often, the complainer is a great donor — someone who has given before, maybe recently, or often, or large amounts. She’s likely to give again, but something about your fundraising isn’t quite right for her, and she cares enough to point it out to you.

That type of complaint is a great opportunity to take engagement to a new level. Get in touch with her, and tell her the truth about why you do fundraising the way you do. Almost every time, she’ll believe you and appreciate being shown that you are professional and on top of things.

And all those other people who aren’t complaining? Well, a lot more of them are giving you a great big YES in the form of donations.

That’s why complaints are not bad.

They’re good.


Comments

2 responses to “Why donor complaints are a good sign in fundraising”

  1. Brett Murray Avatar
    Brett Murray

    I find this concept fascinating! Though it is a great idea, the concept is definitely scary. But I get it – getting complaints is not a negative reaction to your organization, but rather a complaint of her own inability to give because you have done such a good job at the “ask” that she wants to give. Great concept!

  2. Brett Murray Avatar
    Brett Murray

    I find this concept fascinating! Though it is a great idea, the concept is definitely scary. But I get it – getting complaints is not a negative reaction to your organization, but rather a complaint of her own inability to give because you have done such a good job at the “ask” that she wants to give. Great concept!

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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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