How To Lose Donors & Persuade People To Hate You

August 6, 2009

I’m a big fan of John Carlton.

For those who aren’t familiar with John’s work, he’s one of the highest paid copywriters in the world and a very successful marketer.

He recently hosted a couple of events, one in San Francisco and the other in Las Vegas, and experienced some interesting hotel “challenges” that he writes about on his blog in an article entitled “How to Lose Customers & Persuade People to Hate You.”

It’s a terrific article describing his experiences in two very different hotels – and the accompanying customer service issues. As he writes, one hotel was quite luxurious, with wonderful amenities – but lousy customer service. The other hotel sounds as though it was the polar opposite. In the words of Bette Davis “What a dump!” – yet their customer service, by all accounts, was sublime.


So how do you handle a donor once they have made a gift to your organization?

Do you treat them like a number, sending out a stock acknowledgement letter … and then not connecting with them again until your following year’s annual appeal?

Or do you welcome them into your organization, like family, encouraging them to learn more about the work they’ve just supported – by way of a number of integrated approaches (emailed newsletters, print newsletters, your Facebook page, Twitter, community events, etc.)?

Do you treat your $1000 donor differently than your $25 donor?

I’m of the school of thought that every donor deserves the same thoughtful, caring customer service. This year’s $25 donor, given appropriate nurturing, will turn into next year’s $100 donor and the following year’s $25 a month donor.

And it again boils down to my oft-repeated mantra:  systems.

An organization can have all their ducks in a row:

  • the best direct mail package in the world,
  • the most compelling website and mission
  • connections with every grantmaking foundation within a 250 mile radius
  • a video that’s gone viral

But if you don’t have a solid donor acknowledgement system in place – one that, in the words of John Carlton, allows you to “bond deeply,” there is a slim chance that your newly acquired donor will become a loyal donor.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Brooks August 7, 2009 at 4:16 am

Great post! In my experience dealing with churches they tend to not do a good job of saying thank you. It is almost like they assume donors SHOULD give so why thank them? Everyone loves to be appreciated. I like your emphasis on the fact that today’s $25 donor could be tomorrow’s $100 donor. We have a long ways to go to learn how to appreciate our donors!

David Nickelson August 14, 2009 at 9:02 am

One of strengths of working in the Internet Strategy space for NPOs is that all systems (human, business, technology, etc.) must converge well and create an ideal online customer service experience — or visitors do not come back. Even more exciting (and daunting) is using this convergence — or the lack of convergence in the online space — to drive an org to examine and change systems.

Great post!

David Nickelson, PsyD, JD
Director, Internet Strategy & Operations
Marketing Communications
American Diabetes Association
1701 North Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA 22311
ph.: 703-299-5522
fax: 703-299-5512

Jason Dick August 30, 2009 at 7:59 pm

That reminds me of a post I wrote a number of months ago. It asks the question why don’t we treat all donors as major donors.

Patty Winter September 14, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Pamela, I can offer a personal story about how treating your small donors well can pay off.

Some years ago, I made an initial donation of $25 to an organization that supports projects in one of the national parks. A few months later, I was unexpectedly invited to a reception at the home of a local board member.

To this day, I don’t know why I was invited, out of all the other people in my area who must also have contributed small amounts. But it instantly made me feel engaged with the organization, and before long, I was donating at the major gifts level.

There’s an even more interesting followup to this story. With freelance work having taken a nosedive in the past couple of years, I’ve had to cut back considerably on my charitable contributions. Yet, even though I’ve dropped below the major gifts level at the above-mentioned organization, *they are still inviting me to major-gifts events.* In fact, I’m going to a reception with their executive director next week.

I don’t know how long it will last :-), but I think this is a *very* smart move on their part, because they are continuing to make me feel “part of the family.” I have only recently found your blog, so I don’t know whether you have addressed this strategy, but I think it’s a great approach during tight economic times.

Patty Winter

Mark Riffey November 6, 2009 at 8:16 am

Treat them (whoever “them” is) all the same, but reward them differently.

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