We have all had more than a few frustrating experiences with a “customer service” agent or an employee who doesn’t appreciate that “Customer Service is number 1.” Not that the customer is always right, but the customer – or the client or the prospective contributor, is ALWAYS number 1.
You know the story, you come head-to-head with a service person who acts as if they are the umpire in a World Series with the game on the line. Refusing to listen to reason or reverse their call, no matter how irrational it may be. Fortunately, in today’s sports world, plays are reviewed so when I hit the customer service wall, I toss the review flag; doing as my mother does, and politely ask to speak to a supervisor. Often better trained and with a capacity to overturn a decision, the supervisor will usually find a way to listen and accommodate, so that when I hang up or leave the store, I feel comfortable with the outcome.
Every staff member and every volunteer in a charitable organization must consider themselves as an ambassador and embrace the imperative not only to TCB – take care of business, but to TCP – take care of people. Active listening to opinions, perspectives, and caring for our contributors is called stewardship. When thinking about the relationship with contributors, we must not say, “can I help you,” but “HOW can I help you?” The raison d’etre of a charitable organization begins with a focus on helping people. Inherent in our work is to relieve human suffering and to improve society for all. Contributions are the gas that powers the charitable organization’s engine, and it is the contributors who choose which charities they will support.
Contributors should feel empowered to ask questions when thinking about making a gift and everyone who works or volunteers for the charity is duty bound to respond. It is their job to help educate, inform, and ensure that the contributor is confident that their gift is being used as they intend. Questions from contributors indicates they care about their potential gift. So being accessible, responsive, and sensitive to the contributor’s user experience can lead to additional gifts – more capacity to do the work of the charity.
Philanthropic and financial advisors, when working with clients helping to manage their giving portfolios, ask questions of their clients. It is imperative to ask and invite questions to understand their purpose and passions to best assist them in making meaningful and lasting impact with their charitable gifts. Asking questions is the first step however the most important step is to listen to clients. Actively listening to what motivates them, their personal goals and aspirations, values and intentions, is necessary to so that giving decisions are aligned. By listening, we can best ensure that it is their intentions, not ours, that drive decisions.
There are steps that organizations need to take when canvassing and accepting a gift, that should be part of their practice and help ensure a successful relationship with a client or contributor.
- The Canvass is a Proposal
A canvasser – staff or volunteer – on behalf of the organization makes the ask or proposes a financial arrangement with a prospective contributor for a specific gift for a specific purpose with specific terms. Once made, listen to the prospect carefully. If the canvasser is sincere, the prospect will ask real questions that will guide them as they assess the proposal. Be prepared to respond to what is asked, not what you want to tell them.
- Execute a Formal Contract
Formalize the gift with by having the contributor sign a pledge card or donor agreement that acts as proof and give comfort to the contributor and the charity of the commitment being made by both. These contracts reflect the terms, conditions and expectations of the parties as mutually agreed upon.
- Follow up and Report
Organizations want their contributors and the community at large to know about their work. To make an impact, charities must use effective marketing and communications strategies that demonstrate to contributors that their gifts are properly managed. Keeping customers/contributors satisfied may be ore work, but when the organization is willing to take calls from or respond to requests for information, this reflects care and concern. Every contributor large or small wants to know that their gift was used in accordance with the terms of the agreement.
- Nurture the Relationship
Working for a charity is an honour and a responsibility. Ongoing interaction says that you care about the giver as much as the gift. Listening to their concerns and their insights will help you as you prepare for a future canvass. When someone gives you a gift, they have taken a major step in creating or sustaining a relationship with the organization and its purposes. Successful advisors and charities nurture that relationship and develop spokespeople who will promote and be proud of their activity.
- When Things go Awry
People want to be heard. It is acceptable to disagree with someone, to have a different point of view. Stewardship puts the person at the centre of the discussion – TCP. It means always being forthright and honest when addressing a problem. It means respecting the other and acting with in a way that reflects the values of the organization.
When customer service is priority, when a contributor or client is given the opportunity to question or express ideas or even frustrations, even if there is incongruity with the result, they must feel they are heard. The greatest strength we can display is the power to step away and reflect on what our contributors and clients are really saying. When we do so we strengthen the relationship, and everyone benefits.