Lessons on Turning Around a Bad Experience at Your Nonprofit

Turning around a bad experienceI recently read that it takes 12 good experiences to make up for 1 bad one.  Wow.  But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.  If I stopped you on the street and asked you to name a recent bad experience with a business or a nonprofit you could probably come up with something pretty quickly. For me, just remembering a recent cancelled flight or attempt to make a health insurance claim brings a surge of adrenaline.

Logic tells me that some things are unavoidable – I know that weather is not controlled by an airline. But, that won’t stop me from feeling irritated, angry, and considering another airline in the future. Unless, there is something keeping me loyal.  In this case, it may be a long-time airline loyalty strategy like building miles. Or, could it have been a free dinner that night dealing with my immediate discomfort? Maybe if I received a follow-up email acknowledging the problem and simply expressing how sorry they were, acknowledging that the situation was completely out of their control?

The truth is, that I didn’t receive additional miles or any other customer thank you besides they’re automatically rescheduling my flight for 5:30 AM the next day.  But here is another truth, we in the nonprofit industry should shoot a lot higher than merely mimicking the airline industry.

Lessons on turning around a bad experience.

Lesson 1: If it’s not good and it’s not bad, what is it?

If you are providing bland interactions with new donors, you are indistinguishable from other nonprofits.  Indistinguishable does not encourage a second or repeat gift in the best of times.

We have talked about stewardship in the past, and first time donors should be feeling the love from your nonprofit.  They should know that their $25 gift makes a difference.  Write, call, email, post, tweet, and connect with them – and not just to ask for another gift.

You want them to notice you for the special invitation or thank you call.  Then, if something bad should happen, they will know that you want to hear from them at any time – not just when they are writing a check.

Lesson 2:  If you know why they offered support in the first place, you can remind them of how their own interests align with your nonprofit from time to time.

What if you added 2 optional questions onto your donor forms:

  1. Who or what originally introduced you to our organization? Have checkboxes for a person, an event, a tweet, etc.
  2. Is there one particular piece of our programming that interests you? Again, have checkboxes and an open space for other.

On repeat donor forms, you want to be careful to either acknowledge that you have that information from a previous form and ask something that will encourage them to give you additional information that you can use to enhance their experience.  Even if it is a blank line with a note, please tell us if there is something we should update this year in our programming.  If someone takes the time to write you, they are investing in you.  And you may even learn something about public perception.

Lesson 3:  Don’t procrastinate on establishing a stronger relationship.

Sit down with a piece of paper and list 12 ways you can create a positive experience for a new donor and twelve ways you can create a positive experience for a repeat donor whether or not they have had a bad experience.

You don’t just want to play catch up, you want to proactively curate good associations for your nonprofit. Then, if something does go wrong, it will feel like a blip on the timeline, and not the only piece of the timeline they will remember and tell their friends about.

Learn more about Stewardship:

Stewardship During a Capital Campaign

Value the Nonprofit Donor More than the Donation