It Is All About The Relationship

Most nonprofits have really missed the boat in terms of customer (donor) service.

Many retailers and service organizations believe the “customer is always right“ but very few companies actually practice what they preach. Exemplary customer service, like one might receive at a Nordstrom store for instance, is incredibly elusive because it costs money, takes lots of training, and most of all, it takes commitment on the part of leadership and the employees.

But until a company actually believes that great customer service leads to increased revenue (essentially a positive return on their investment) it will probably never be taken seriously enough to become a central focus of the customer experience.

And so it goes with nonprofits too. Nonprofits talk a lot about donor cultivation, building relationships, and encouraging advocacy – but can you honestly name one nonprofit organization that has done this incredibly well? One that you are truly “connected” with and would open your wallet, heart and mind too? My guess is that no organization comes to mind other than perhaps your house of worship.

The challenge is that for many nonprofit organizations the relationship has become transactional and not relational.

Somehow in the midst of hyped CRM initiatives, one-to-one marketing concepts, and complex database marketing techniques we have lost the sense of individualism and treating people like people, plus we have forgotten how to address our supporters specific needs, wants, and hopes rather than simply smothering them with our one sided messages such as asking for money.

As the demographics of the population shift and our culture begins to view nonprofits in a new light, greater emphasis must be placed on the person and not simply their wallet.

We must become their friend and advocate. Can we ever expect our supporters to open their heart, mind and wallet if we don’t take relationship building seriously?

The new methods for reaching and connecting with donors, supporters, constituencies must center on the person as an individual.

This is easier said than done; and many of us already believed we were doing just that with personalized direct mail packages, allowing them to opt in/out of promotions, inviting them to be a member of a “club”, and so on. The reality is these are simply marketing tactics that frankly coma across as too mechanical and have a limited effect on building authentic and enduring relationships that benefit both the nonprofit and the supporter.