When you think about “donor service,” what does that look like, for you and for your organization? I’ve talked with countless fundraisers and non-profit leaders who don’t see the value of exceptional donor service.
I had an experience that reminded me how easy it is to forget that we serve others. And the experience got me thinking about donor service and what you, as a frontline fundraiser, should watch out for in your relationship to the donors on your caseload.
Here’s what happened.
For over 15 years, I have had a relationship in place with a company that has provided good service to me. I had been in discussions with the owner about renewing some of the current business and, in one case, buying some additional services.
I had been traveling quite a bit, in different cities almost every business day, and the salesperson and I were trying to find a time to talk on the phone so that I could answer some questions he had.
He offered “Wednesday or Thursday” as options. I replied I was traveling on Wednesday and in meetings all day, morning to night, on Thursday. He countered that he did not have time on Friday but “maybe Monday or Tuesday of next week could work for him.” I replied that I was traveling to New York on Monday and was in meetings from morning to night on Tuesday, and then I was traveling on Wednesday with more meetings on Thursday and Friday. And then I said: “How about we talk on Saturday or Sunday?”
And here was his reply: “I normally do not work on weekends.”
Now, I want to emphasize that it’s important to have clear boundaries with work. Working on the weekends, as a fundraiser, is not something you should be expected to do on a regular basis. But there may be times when you just cannot get your schedules to align, and you need to meet with a donor outside of standard business hours.
My initial reaction to his response was frustration. It did not feel good.
This tiny interaction may seem like a small point. But it isn’t. Because it illustrates that, sometimes, your role as a fundraiser, or in this case a salesperson, may require you to accommodate different schedules that fall outside of your regular work hours.
Most of the frontline fundraisers we work with will always accommodate a donor’s schedule. But the temptation is sometimes there not to do it. It’s important to consider where you can be flexible, so the donor feels heard and valued.
Jeff and I strongly believe you need to have healthy boundaries with donors, that you need to balance your work schedule and your personal time, but also recognize that major gift work is not a 9 to 5 job.
Some days, you’ll have an early morning coffee, a late dinner and yes, an occasional weekend meeting or an event you need to attend.
And that is why good frontline fundraisers do not hold to a rigid schedule for phone calls or meetings – it is about having the flexibility to connect with a donor who wants to connect with you and finding a middle ground where you can make that happen.
We know that most of the donors who stop giving to an organization do so because they did not know their giving was making a difference. That’s poor donor service right there – not telling the donor what happened with their money. But many more just leave because they feel that they’ve been treated shabbily.
But stop a second and ask yourself WHY this happens. Why do some donors feel as though they aren’t treated well by organizations they support? Why do organizations regard their donors as merely financial cogs in the machine – the oil to keep the engine running? Why does this happen?
It’s because many organizations have a culture that fundamentally does not care for the donor.
The donor is simply a utilitarian and functional source of money and that is all they’re good for. And if they keep giving then who cares what happens?
Well, that’s the problem. The donor will not keep giving with this kind of attitude. It will not happen. And that is why I am writing about this now. You are the key to great donor service. You can make things right for your donor. You are the one who will assure that each donor on your caseload is treated with respect, honor, authenticity, and mutuality.
Exceptional donor service starts with you and your attitude.
Take a moment to check on your attitude about the donors on your caseload. Are any of them a nuisance to you? Do you get a knot in your stomach when you think about some of them? How do you really feel about them? If you do not have a feeling of thankfulness, generosity, and compassion for your donors it’s time for an attitude adjustment.
Because leaving things like they are is not going to work. Your donors will not stay with you or give to your cause. You are the foundation of exceptional donor service.