We all know the statistic:
For every consumer who complains, there are 26* more who are just as unhappy but don't bother to get in touch.
The majority of unhappy people don't complain, but it's likely they change their behaviour. They may stop buying the product or using the service that has disappointed them.
So what about fundraising?
Quantifying the number of charity donors who are unhappy, but don't tell us, may appear difficult. Studies like this one, from Adrian Sargeant in 2003, however, send us a powerful message.
Among the 50% of cash donors who don't give again, it's likely that there are 'silent complainers'. The same applies to studies of regular giving attrition rates, which reveal that UK and US charities can lose up to 60% of donors in the first year.
More widely, several studies like this one from GMI/Mintel in 2008, suggest that keeping donors happy is perceived as a failing of many charity brands. Here is a selection of the results.
Attitudes to NSPCC (from the top reads clockwise: Trust, Socially responsible, Pride, Innovative, Great customer service, Good value, Good reputation, Distinctive image, Consistently high quality, Cares for the environment).
Attitudes to the Poppy Appeal (RBL)
If you see the full study, you'll notice the gap in the bottom right hand area for all charities where donors rate the organisation on their Customer Services.
Perhaps looking outside the sector will help us find some answers. This blog post by Mark looks at a study by the Rockefeller Foundation in the States, which details why companies lose customers.
To counter this, many commercial organisations are gathering 'real-time' feedback from their customers, and using it to improve their product.They are taking a pro-active approach to tacking the 'silent complainers'.
This is a photo taken at a Virgin gym. This noticeboard is placed by a set of stairs that every visitor to the gym will use. I think it's interesting when you think about what it's doing.
It's answering personal complaints about the gym, publicly.
So if a 'silent complainer' has shared the same experience, they too will find an answer or resolution to their problem.
I haven't seen a charity take the same approach, but would love an example if anyone has one. I'm thinking about a regular newsletter feature or webpage that answers donors' questions or complaints for the benefit of all.
So here's a summary:
- We need to keep our donors happy
- Saying thank you is a great start
- Giving donors a channel to feedback will help you find out what they really think
- Sharing their experiences – good and bad – and your answers in a place other donors will see it may help answer complaints from people who don't have the time or inclination to air them
- Whenever you get treated well by a company, see if there's a technique you can steal or adapt for your charity.
*A quick bit of desk research reveals differing opinions on the number. Sometimes 25, 10 or 'tons' are cited. The figure of 26 appears to come from a study called 'Increasing Customer Satisfaction', carried out in by an organisation called TARP for the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs in 1974-1979 and 1984-1986.