Too many charities are undermining their own efforts to address donor churn by treating customer service as a burden and assigning value only to quantitative data, according to a new paper by the donor experience and relationship company Donor Voice.
The paper, Donor Churn: How to stop it before it starts and why current approaches prevent this from happening, says that non-profits are not putting enough emphasis on providing a service to their donors, with many having phone numbers that are difficult to find – often on purpose – and having highly scripted conversations with donors when they speak by phone.
It says that charities are running themselves like assembly lines in collecting data from donors that comes in only on pre-printed forms and disregarding handwritten notes and other feedback that does not fit into this format.
"The charitable sector runs the business as an assembly line, not a human enterprise," reads the paper. "How can a sector built on serving others be compared to an assembly line producing widgets?"
The paper advises charities to be more proactive in soliciting donor feedback – for example, by running surveys that people fill in when leaving charity websites, which can then be acted on at the individual supporter level as well as providing data for quantitative analysis.
The paper says charities can stop their donor service operations departments being a place where "relationships and donor lifetime values go to die" by making it easier for donors to complain.
One charity it says is doing this well is the US organisation ChildFund International, which has a "first-call resolution" system in place to ask supporters at the end of phone calls and email exchanges whether or not their issues were resolved.
"For those who say ‘no’, a follow-up call or email is triggered to remedy the situation to the donors’ satisfaction," says the paper. "For those who had a positive experience, the charity will either make a request for a donation or ask that person to introduce someone to the charity."
The paper also criticises charities for thinking they can fix problems with donor satisfaction after donors have already lapsed, saying they should have better awareness of the effectiveness of their welcome kits, their charity magazine content and their brand messages on donor loyalty.
It says that charities should stop believing that sending loyalty letters to supporters is an effective way of keeping them, because in most cases these actually have the opposite effect.
Asked if he had any examples of charities that were particularly strong or weak at donor churn, Charlie Hulme, managing director of Donor Voice, said: "All UK charities are bad in those areas. Only a few in the USA can claim to be making any real effort and progress – Operation Smile, Project Hope and Audubon being especially forward-thinking."
He said that donor retention was "far and away the biggest challenge" facing individual giving.