Tag Archives: management

Why do charities find good customer care so difficult?

I’m a fundraiser. My customer is the donor or supporter. I want them to feel special, because they are special. Without them, my charity crumbles. We are far from perfect but we do try our best to be good at customer care. Whether someone has donated in support of our work, or phoned up for one of our advice booklets, we try to respond promptly, and personally if at all possible. It feels a bit as if all our donors are major donors (and perhaps that new contact today could be a major donor, or a legator, in the future).

This is an issue that extends beyond any one charity. If supporters – or people in need of help – have a negative experience with a charity, there’s a risk they think all charities behave that way. My poor customer care affects your ability to raise funds. Alongside many things charities can do to increase income, my number one wish – that will have impact on both supporters and beneficiaries – is improving what we already do.

Last week, a report from Blackbaud said that over half  of event fundraisers felt their ‘efforts were “not properly acknowledged” by the charity they were fundraising for.’ Sadly, this didn’t surprise me. I know from personal experience and chatting with other charity workers that far too many charities can’t:

  • thank supporters on time
  • get advice booklets to requesters within two weeks
  • sign people up to an email newsletter
  • tell people how much they’ve raised towards a tribute fund
  • give people a smooth and simple website experience
  • provide a cheering station at events

All of these examples are charities failing to get the basics right. And this is really damaging. It reduces supporters’ connection to your cause, so loses you income. It gives a bad impression which gets spread to their social circles, which loses you income. And it fails people who urgently need help. It is unacceptable.

But if charities can build relationships, be responsive, show they care and communicate better with supporters, they will raise more money. I think charity management (the buck stops with us) need to get on top of this and get their organisations to be efficient with processing basic thank you letters or gift aid. What is causing the delay? It can’t just be size, because some small charities can be really slow to respond (but perhaps are forgiven by donors because of their size?) whereas some larger ones are quicker off the mark. Maybe supporter care teams can shed light on the ratio of staff to incoming traffic that works? Previous places I’ve worked did seem very under-resourced for supporter care, and it wasn’t clear that management appreciated the impact on income growth. I have myself struggled to balance quick, responsive supporter care with the pressure to find new ways of growing income.

My personal experience (and that of friends and family) underlines my point. One charity never thanked me for an online giving page I set up one Christmas before they sent me – months later – an email invite to do more fundraising in an event. Another charity has still not signed me up for their regular free magazine, despite me trying to sign up three times in a year. They are also renowned for the slowness with which they post advice booklets. A third has yet to thank a family member who raised £1600 for a fundraising event, when they only had a target of £200. Rachel Brown from the Fundraising Collective puts it well:

Good stewardship links directly to the gift, is timely, and encourages the next donation.

If you’re efficient and effective with your thanking, you will raise more money. Balancing personalised supporter care and finding new ways to raise money is not easy. Sometimes it is difficult to judge when you should invest time and resource into a new idea, which could boost income and enable a charity to do more good, but surely we all understand that an efficient organisation is better for our beneficiaries, uses donors’ money more wisely and gives supporters the sort of experience that brings them back time and again?

Please, let’s sort out basic customer care.


Are charities technophobic?

Technology has the power to transform the world and people’s lives.

And yet too many charities are frustratingly slow to pick up on technology and particularly, the potential of the digital world and the internet. The persistent idea of an “office” being somewhere productive when it clearly isn’t (if your creative thinking happens outside the workplace, you’re not alone), or the poor quality of many charity websites (in general, let alone when visited on mobile), it can seem like charities or their leaders are prone to being luddites.

Social Media should be at the heart of communications

There still seems a reticence from many CEOs, Trustees and senior staff to pick up on the power of social media to help them do their work. How many times have you heard people in those roles express bewilderment at Twitter or Facebook? Perhaps letters were considered a weird fad back in the day…

Mobile – not digital – First

This should be the mantra for any charities redeveloping their digital services. Charities have understood people are willing to donate by mobile on public transport and adverts encouraging this have multiplied in recent years. Charities that help people with health conditions know their beneficiaries are also mobile and they expect to engage easily and conveniently to find information and support whenever they need it not just whilst sat at a PC. Supporters deserve their experience to be smooth, seamless and fast. Neither group can be solely catered for through technology. Face-to-face interactions are often essential in delivering services and developing strong relationships, but technology is incredibly helpful and should be many charities’ biggest focus.

Culture change

With all these technological advances, it seems extraordinary that so many helplines run by major national charities are only open during “standard office hours” (by which they mean 9-5, even though these are not even standard office hours any more!). The insistence on so many staff working every day in offices seems counterproductive on so many levels, and costly. Morale, creativity, flexibility, rent and energy savings are just some of the benefits to charity of having non-office based staff.

It’s not acceptable in 2014 to have the mantra of “what about those who are not online?” to determine your communications or business strategy. If a charity gets direct mail or other hard copy communications wrong, they may receive a complaint or some feedback, but how much attention is paid to the much larger number of people who use their websites and if it doesn’t offer what they want, they click or flick away?

Of course, those not online must also be able to access information and support, but if strategy is driven by that small and decreasing audience, where is the focus on the vast majority of the audience?

Content is not king, delivery is.

Content alone is not enough. If your presentation is poor – a low quality website with poor navigation, unresponsive design and missed engagement opportunities – your high bounce rate indicates the content isn’t being read or used properly. Charities that don’t have easy-to-use website help points, downloadable guides and booklets, or easy-to-share videos and infographics, are failing to meet the needs and demands of the bulk of their beneficiaries, supporters and staff.

Invest for a return, show your supporters you care.

Despite platforms like JustGiving, some of the technology specifically for charities is poor quality, and it restrains fundraising and service delivery. Synchronising different platforms verges on the impossible. Tribute Fund sections of some major national charity websites are embarrassing, almost insulting. Do they really expect someone to want to support a charity that has a clunky, dated and unfriendly approach to building a memorial to their loved one?

Halfway there?

There are many amazing examples of both leaders and charity specialists who see the potential for modern technology to deliver for charities, but they seem exceptional rather than the norm.

Up-to-date technology that works well should be a central plank in the future development of charities big and small. With so many free platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Google Grants etc – size need not make a difference. Technology can deliver real and sustained change and build a better world. Leaders of those charities slow to take advantage of this amazing potential need to rethink their attitude, and catch up.


Ten essentials for effective fundraising

1. Inspirational and powerful vision

so that donors know the positive future their support will achieve.

2. Clear strategy over long and medium term

The charity’s work is based on a plan to get from where they are now to where they need to be – donors see how their support enables the transformation beneficiaries need.

3. Annual business plans with costed projects

The need for funds now is matched to activity happening now that links into the longer term strategy – ie how a gift today brings a better future closer. The plans give something really clear to report on each year – ie: this is what the charity said it would do, and this is what it achieved (the progress it has made over the year, thanks to donors’ support.)

Costed projects are important, so fundraising can tell donors how much their gift will help, and they are essential for grant funding.

4. Measure Performance

Fundraisers need to show donors how their gifts are being spent in best way possible to achieve the objectives of the charity (which have matched donors objectives through the vision) – both overall organisational objectives and specific project objectives for any particular piece of work. Measuring performance shows a charity has thought about what will work best to achieve something and that is why increased funding is needed.

5. Impact reporting, both quantitative and qualitative

To tell past donors and encourage future donations by showing what the work achieves – the people/animals/buildings/environment the charity helps, the difference donations have made, to one and to many.

6. Detailed financial reporting

Funders in particular, and donors, look at the costs incurred (such as governance and fundraising) in relation to expenditure on meeting charitable objectives. Detailed reporting is necessary to unpick exactly what things really cost and what donations will achieve and can help justify investment to achieve bold objectives.

Important for fundraising to have clarity on restricted vs unrestricted income and for all departments to have detailed breakdown of their expenditure – are resources being allocated as efficiently as possible?

7. Efficient internal processes

Supporters and funders are keen to know their money is being used with maximum efficiency. Any indication of a charity spending money inappropriately can hinder fundraising growth (and also means it is not maximising the resources it has and increasing the time it will take to reach its objectives.) Effective project management and mindfulness of costs is not about positive PR, it’s about being as efficient as possible in order to achieve a vision of the future as soon as possible. Prompt processing of inbound requests shows a charity focusses on external audiences not its organisational needs.

8. Targeted and planned marketing

Communications always work best when the audience is identified and the communication is focussed on them.  Detailed segmentation of mailings and focussed marketing appropriate to the right audiences requires planning ahead in a comprehensive way.

9. High quality design

To engage on the emotional level that makes donors give and give again, materials need to be well designed and pack an emotional punch, with good quality, hi res, emotional photos with real people/animals/environments in them. Well designed publications with emotional (and informal) language engage donors in a powerful way.

10. Powerful, public leadership

A board of trustees that are engaged, show an interest in what staff are doing, boosts staff morale and increases individual staff engagement with their work and performance at their job. Teams that are well led always perform better than those with disengaged or poor leaders. Senior leadership are pushed to the fore for donors and articulate key messages accurately, powerfully and emotionally, so that donors follow their lead and understand the importance of their donations to achieving the vision.

All of these will ensure a charity comes across as coherent, purposeful and well managed. Being an efficient, effective and emotional charity is appealing to support.