What you should assume about complainers — and donors

We all get complaints from donors. Sometimes those complaints sting, and we feel “caught out” by the complainers.

What makes complaints harmful — or not — depends on our interpretation of them, and our reaction.

The Betterm Fundraising blog has some helpful thinking about complaints, at The Harmful Big Assumption.

Here’s the assumption it’s so easy to make:

… if this person complained, there must be a lot of other donors who feel the same way but didn’t send anything in.

The root of “one complaint speaks for many” is fear.

Fear that we’re stumbling into errors, that donors are in a constant state of pique about our efforts to raise funds.

I was once told (with great confidence) that research found every complaint has behind it 200 more people who had the same issue but didn’t say anything.

In hindsight, I can see how bogus that claim is: surely the number must vary a lot by the type of complaint, the sector, the audience, and the number of people involved. It may have derived from some kind of customer service research, finally reaching me after a very long game of “telephone” that turned it into a terrifying piece of “data.”

But it was a powerful force that drove us to action. Actually, mostly to inaction.

The Better Fundraising post raises a liberating insight: If complainers speak for other non-complainers, shouldn’t we assume that donors speak for nondonors? That each person who goes to the trouble of giving represents people who felt moved by our message, who agreed with what we said … but just didn’t get around to making the gift?

This should flip the script on the fear of complaints.

In my experience (and probably yours) the ratio of donors to complainers is typically hundreds or even thousands to one.

Decisions based on fear are almost always bad decisions.


Comments

2 responses to “What you should assume about complainers — and donors”

  1. Yes, yes, yes. Fear is a terrible decision maker. Significant donor attrition is how you know you are making huge blunders in fundraising. Thank you, Jeff, as always!

  2. Yes, yes, yes. Fear is a terrible decision maker. Significant donor attrition is how you know you are making huge blunders in fundraising. Thank you, Jeff, as always!

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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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