Whether you’re a nonprofit of one, 20, or 100, customer service permeates your entire organization. The way your nonprofit responds when supporters reach out with questions, concerns, or complaints can greatly impact donor relations. While you should have some predefined engagement strategies, your staff must also be able to think on their feet and deal with unexpected situations with grace. You don’t have to have an answer to every question, but you should do everything in your power to have a positive interaction with every supporter, every time.
At the end of the day, it comes down to creating a professional, reliable space where your nonprofit’s network can go for support.
Here are three best practices you can adopt to show donors you value their input, along with some insights from our own customer support team. These will go a long way toward refining your overall donor stewardship tactics and fostering a positive relationship with your donors.
1. Be Approachable
Build trust and reliability by showing donors that your staff is accessible. If it’s difficult for donors to contact your organization, they will most likely give up and be unimpressed with your lack of attention.
Make sure donors know they can get in touch with your organization. There are three main ways they should be able to reach you:
• Email: Don’t make your donors feel like their emails are being sent into a black hole. They should be confident that their messages will be read and promptly responded to. As a best practice, respond to emails within 24 hours. Even if you can’t immediately answer the person’s question or concern, at least reply to their message and let them know you’re looking into the issue.
You can also make an email exchange feel more personal by adding a friendly face to your contact page. Consider featuring a picture of a staff member next to your email address. The email account can still receive general questions and messages, and the featured staffer doesn’t have to be the only one replying to emails. This touch simply humanizes your brand and helps supporters feel like they’re talking to a real person.
• Phone: The contact page on your website should offer a phone number supporters can call. Hopefully this line connects to a team member involved with communicating with donors. In any case, your nonprofit should always answer phone calls professionally.
You should always sound happy to hear from your constituents. Give a sincere greeting and pay attention to your tone and word choice. This can go a long way toward making donors feel valued and welcomed.
• Social Media: Social channels foster conversation, so make sure you join in. “Liking,” sharing, and replying to supporters’ comments are easy ways to engage donors and show them you’re listening. Also, promptly answer any questions directed your way.
Twitter is a great place to both initiate and jump into conversations with supporters. Show them some public recognition by retweeting their comments. That’s what Blood:Water does here. It also boosts their social proof, demonstrating how others have validated their cause to anyone who checks out their feed.
The first step of successful donor communication is being available with a timely response, but it’s the content of conversations that will leave donors delighted. Encourage staff to personalize their conversations in simple ways, like referring to a donor by their name and mentioning how long they’ve been a supporter of your organization. These subtle, but thoughtful cues will make a donor feel valued and appreciated. The personalized touch is especially important when engaging with supporters online as they can’t hear the emotion in your voice.
2. Be Patient
No matter how great your donor stewardship tactics, there’s a chance you’ll encounter a disgruntled donor or two along the way. These are the moments when your nonprofit’s customer service skills are most critical. Sound annoyed or frustrated on the phone, and you risk losing a donor.
This is why patience is a pillar of great customer service. Even if you don’t have the answer to a problem, remain calm and simply let them talk. People often relax when they feel the person on the other end is willing to listen. Being attentive to your donor will not only help you mitigate the situation, but it can also help you identify what exactly the donor wants. Keep in mind that every conversation is a learning opportunity, as other supporters might have this same concern but simply haven’t reached out to you.
We spoke with Classy customer support agent Julian Joseph on the importance of staying patient. This anecdote from Julian is a great reminder that anyone can turn a difficult conversation into a positive experience.
“One time we had a client who was having some real challenges and they called in pretty frustrated. I took this case over from somebody else and it started off pretty rough, but by the end of the call, we had all calmed down, we were all working through the problem together. We ended up having somewhat of a friendship outside of this work interaction. They added me on LinkedIn, which surprised me, but it was cool. We started talking and got to talk about San Diego, because they used to live here!
3. Be Responsive
In a similar vein, making someone feel heard requires a caring response. Not only should the donor feel like you listened to their problem, but they should feel confident that you want to solve it too.
When speaking to constituents, try restating their concern in your own words to show you want to understand where they’re coming from. Explain what you can (or cannot) do to remedy the situation, and keep their expectations realistic. If you don’t know the answer to a donor’s question, don’t guess. Supporters will only be more upset if they find out you gave them false information. Instead, let them know that you will look into the issue and contact them soon.
Follow up the conversation by sending more information on the issue that concerns the donor. Correct any mistakes, and discuss the issue with your staff leadership to hammer out any preventative procedures, if needed.
If your donors know that the person they speak to is truly listening, empathizing, and working to resolve their issue, they will leave the conversation feeling satisfied.
Classy’s customer support manager, Jo Moya, explains the importance of having the right team members on the front line of donor communications because they are a tangible representation of your organization.
“These people are so devoted to the happiness of our customers day in and day out. When I’m hiring people, I can check off all the boxes as far as their experience and their skill set, but I can’t teach somebody to be empathetic or nice. And every single person on our support team is an innately good person. I want every single one of our clients to know that not only are they in good hands, but that the people that are helping them and on the other side of the phone, or the chat, or the email are truly doing the best that they can every single day.
Similarly, your nonprofit can strive to instill that same type of confidence in your donors. Remind team members that even though they are on the front lines working to accomplish your nonprofit’s mission, it’s the donors who make it possible for your organization to see another day, and the donors deserve their care and attention.
For-profit companies aren’t the only ones that should provide great customer service. By prioritizing intentional communication, a willingness to listen, and prompt follow-up, nonprofits can demonstrate how much they value their supporters. This commitment to customer service can go a long way in boosting donor happiness and loyalty.