Customer Service Is Important for Nonprofits, Too

Nonprofit Management

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When someone hears the phrase “customer service,” they’ll likely think of grocery store cashiers, long lines for retail returns, or trying to talk to an automated telephone menu. They probably won’t think about charitable organizations. Even though “customer service” is something that’s typically associated with for-profit companies, effective nonprofits know that offering outstanding customer service to their donors is an important part of success.

Think about it. For-profit companies (presumably) go above and beyond to offer amazing customer service. If they do well, they can retain customers for life. If they do poorly, they lose their clientele quickly, and disgruntled clients are sure to spread the word about the poor treatment they received. It’s really no different for nonprofits; like for-profit businesses, nonprofits have “clients” (their donors) and “products” (their charitable work). Donor retention rates for nonprofit organizations hover around 49%, but retention rates for for-profit businesses are about 96%.

Where’s the disconnect?

There are lots of different answers, of course, but one factor nonprofits should consider is their emphasis on customer service. Don’t confuse “customer service” with other donor retention efforts, either; customer service is a very important part of donor retention, yes, but the two are not always the same thing. Going above and beyond for your donors by sending them hand-written thank you cards and publicly recognizing volunteers are both great donor retention ideas. In the effort to focus on donor retention, though, small customer service details can easily be lost in the shuffle.

Think about a for-profit business with excellent customer service and compare it to your nonprofit. Do you always have someone available to help your donors if they have concerns, complaints, or other issues? Do you know how to fix their problem if they process a transaction incorrectly or need to change their payment method? Are you paying attention when their billing address changes? Did you update their information if their name or marital status changed?

All of these little details — details that don’t necessarily fall under the donor retention efforts touted all over the Internet — are just as important as thank-you cards and donor appreciation events. Even long-time donors can get frustrated when they receive poor customer service, even when it concerns relatively minor complaints like inattentive staff when donors change their address or unanswered e-mails.

Be careful not to neglect your customer service in favor of other donor retention efforts; big gestures fall flat when they’re not supported by basic support for smaller issues!

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