How donor complaints can boost your fundraising

Excerpt from Hooked on a Feeling: How the Passion and Devotion for Good Causes Become Memories and Identities by Francesco Ambrogetti.

HookedonafeelingcoverDonor and customer satisfaction is the single most important factor driving loyalty and revenues. An About Loyalty research study showed that a small increase of one percent in donor satisfaction will result in a nearly 3% increase in repeated giving the year after.

We have also seen (and often measured) that an emotionally satisfied customer or donor is much more loyal and financially valuable than a simply satisfied customer or donor — 52% more, according to Harvard Business Review.

But where to start our work on satisfaction? With the happy donors or the disgruntled supporters?

In fact, both are essential strategies, but only if we combine the measures of satisfaction/dissatisfaction with donors’ identities and commitment, as well as with their financial value.

Let’s start with the complaints. Firstly, the time it takes to handle (and resolve) a complaint is critical.

  • Donor Voice came to the same conclusion, showing that resolved complaints lead to better retention:
  • Donors who get their complaints resolved: 69% retention.
  • Those who get complaints immediately resolved: 94% retention.
  • Donors whose complaints are not resolved: 46% retention.
  • Donors who don’t complain in the first place: 31% retention.

Among other things, a satisfied donor has a greatly increased value, including a higher propensity to leave a legacy compared to an average donor.

The second aspect of complaints is what is the value of a complaint compared to the cost to manage and handle it? One study found that the return on investment (ROI) in managing a complaint is 312% — that’s the difference between the increased profit you generate by managing complaints and the cost to do so.

We always have the option of dealing with a complaint or intention to cancel a donation with either a proactive or reactive approach.

A proactive approach, i.e., dealing in real time with a donor who wants to cancel a donation or membership is far more effective than a reactive one (after the donor has cancelled their donation). Our Donor Love team managed to save 33% of donors wanting to cancel their donation by taking a proactive approach vs. saving only 8% of lapsing donors with a reactive approach.

Dealing with complaints and disgruntled donors and constantly measuring the happiness of your donors is vital, but not all donors and customers are the same. Should we try to please and change the minds of our unhappy supporters, or to reinforce and protect our happy donors?

Most people respond that the priority should be to make unhappy customers happier. Managing complaints and unhappiness is certainly crucial, with a clear link to loyalty and incremental revenues and savings.

But research tells us that a customer who gives a “very positive” rating to an airline will spend $2,200 on air travel, while a customer who gives a “neutral” rating will only spend $800.

It therefore makes much more sense strategically to focus on the happy and very happy customers.

To increase satisfaction every organization should:

  1. Constantly collect feedback on the experience at the point of donation.
  2. Encourage and gather complaints on a regular basis, classify them based on the donor’s commitment and value, and share the feedback with the relevant teams.
  3. Establish benchmarks to reduce the time required to acknowledge and respond to complaints.
  4. Set a target for your donor complaint management and resolution activities.
  5. Measure the financial value of donors saved through complaints managed or feedback requests dealt with.
  6. Keep active and proactive strategies and tactics in place to save donors who want to cancel or have cancelled their donations.
  7. Focus most efforts and resources on happy and very happy customers to keep them happy, and pay special attention when the complaint comes from very loyal supporters


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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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About the blogger

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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