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Customer Relationship Management for Nonprofits

Customer Care - One Secret to Nonprofit Success

By

Volunteers serving healthy hot meal at soup kitchen
Steve Debenport/Vetta/Getty Images

A widow learned about a particular charity through a friend. She decided to donate because she was so taken with what the organization did for physically challenged children. She gave $50 online at the organization's website. She got a minimal receipt by email but never received a thank you letter in the mail nor any other communication from the organization. She never donated again.

A volunteer who had been interviewed by a nonprofit's volunteer manager showed up at the assigned date and place to help only to be rebuffed by another volunteer. She went home. No one ever called her to find out what happened. She never returned to or supported that organization again.

A woman and her husband were given tickets to a theater production from a friend. There was a mixup about the date so the couple showed up on a Saturday night instead of Friday. The box office attendant greeted them warmly, said nothing about the error, and seated them for the performance. Later the couple realized their mistake but were so taken with the way the theater handled the situation and by the quality of the production that they bought season tickets for the following year.

All of these stories are true. Two of these nonprofits lost potential supporters who could have been of long-term value. The third gained two friends, their financial support, and great word-of-mouth endorsement.

Customer Relationship Management is just as crucial for nonprofit organizations as for any other type of business. It might be even more complex.

Who are your customers? And what do they want?

The People Who Use Your Services

Whether your nonprofit charges for its services or you give them away, how you treat your "customers" is crucial. And they want what any customer does: easy access, personal interaction, solutions for their problems, fast response to their requests and needs, and a heartfelt thank you for their participation.

Serving your clients, users, participants, students--whatever they are called--is your organization's reason for existing. Your customers are embedded in your mission statement. They are the reason the public supports your activities. Lose those customers and your support erodes.

Do you have policies in place that guarantee that your employees, volunteers, teachers, trainers, deliverers, program managers all treat your clients with respect and respond to them rapidly?

We all know what we expect when it comes to customer service. It's the difference we see every day in our own life transactions. It's the difference between walking into a store and having someone come up and ask if they can help you vs wandering the aisles while customer support people avoid eye contact and let you slip back out without even knowing why you were there. It's the difference between waiting in line at a checkout counter because all the others are closed and that bank where the line is only allowed to reach three people before another window is opened.

Even if your services are "free," don't doubt that the recipients of those services deserve and want good customer relations. The one client you ignore could be a future friend or donor lost.

How to Make Customer Service Part of Your Nonprofit's Culture
The Ten Commandments of Great Customer Service

Your Volunteers

All nonprofits depend in good measure on volunteers. They help make your services possible and they are the most likely supporters of your cause. People who volunteer and have a happy experience tend to be your best donors.

What do they want? Easy access. Suitability of jobs. Respect for their abilities. A thank you for their help. Good training. Opportunities to learn and add to their skills. Friendship and social interaction. A bad volunteer experience is a nightmare for the person who came in good faith to your nonprofit to offer a hand. It can sour him or her on ever using your services, ever donating to your cause, and, since everyone loves to share a bad experience as well as a good one, create awful word of mouth reviews of your organization.

10 Ways to Make Volunteers Happy
The Right Volunteer in the Right Job

Your Donors

Donors are those who give money or assets to your cause. A donor might be someone who leaves your organization a million dollars in "his or her will, or it could be that person who donated $10 online. Donors are foundations that give you grants, and corporations that sponsor your events. They are the people who donate their clothing and furniture and books to your thrift store, and the lawyer that contributes pro bono services to help keep you in business.

All donors want to be appreciated and thanked...and the quicker the better. They also want to be able to find the right person to talk to when they have a problem or they want to set up a scholarship fund, or partner for a cause-marketing campaign. They want to know how their donation made a difference in a life, and that you spent their money wisely. They want to hear from you on a regular basis but not every day. They want to be remembered, to hear good news stories as well as about dire needs, and they want to be able to give in a multitude of ways that are convenient and quick.

Top 10 Tips for World-Class Donor Relations
Donor Thank You Letters: Ten Tips for Thanking Donors
How to Choose Donor Management Software for Your Nonprofit

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