Surprise! Donors Don’t Expect Nonprofits to Be Perfect

Donor Retention Project ImageThe Donor Retention Project – Week 10

Improving nonprofit donor satisfaction and retention
There is a general theory that nonprofits should run a steady course and not upset donors. Of course, we all hear the stories of the organizations that found some unique and creative way to dramatically change their nonprofit that resulted in increased donor support and a lot of fabulous press. But, in the back of our heads we assume there are a lot more that tried to do this and failed miserably, angering their donors and forcing a shutdown of the agency.

What if, nonprofit donor satisfaction and retention is not about being perfect or making radical changes, but, instead, it is about being honest and transparent.

That is, in fact, one theory I learned from week 10 of The Donor Retention Project and the interview with the always interesting Marc Pitman.

Marc explained that he was an accidental, early adopter of social media and he has continued to use Linked In, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and many other options that help nonprofits keep engaged and open. Because, as it turns out, donors would rather see you handle a crisis openly and apologetically (if necessary), than trying to sweep the disaster under the proverbial carpet. They would rather hear from you, directly, that something went wrong – from the accidental and embarrassing tweet Marc referenced in his interview to a major program that flopped – than through the grapevine or a scathing newspaper article.

Basic rules of public relations dictate that you want to control the story. So, if you want to retain donors when your nonprofit inevitably strays from perfection – remember that the idea of flawlessness is in your head. You hire people to do jobs and people cannot help but make mistakes. How you handle the errors is up to you. You can explain how you use your mistakes as learning opportunities, make light of the situation with humor or simply apologize, the choice is up to you. But if you want to retain donor support, make it public, make it honest and make it quickly.

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