Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How Nonprofits Can Lose Donors through Lousy Customer Communications

I love little seals. And I am concerned about endangered sea lions, orcas and humpback whales. My view is that a healthy marine ecosystem equals a healthy planet - and we all want to live on a healthy planet. But when it comes to charitable giving, marine life has not been on the top of my donation list.

I actually have a soft spot for the wildlife of Africa – lions, tigers, giraffes, leopards, giant wildebeest, elephants and the caracal cats with the hairy tufts on the tips of their ears. Perhaps it was growing up in Australia and exposure to the harsh outback that influenced my feelings towards these rugged species? And perhaps that’s why, about six months ago, I signed up to support Greenpeace’s efforts on behalf of these species when one of its volunteer members approached me on the street.

Then, for six months, Greenpeace automatically withdrew a monthly donation from my bank account. In that time, I never did hear from the organization once… until last week.

Out of nowhere, I received a random email from a Greenpeace organizer asking me to either physically or mentally (through a petition signature) accompany her to Alaska as she testifies in a hearing related to protecting the Bering Sea and the creatures that call it home.

Throughout the email, which bore the tired old subject line “I can’t go it alone,” she addressed me as “Venassa.”

As a result of that one misguided and misspelled email, “Venassa” is no longer a Greenpeace donor.

Perhaps, as a marketing professional, I am being overtly critical but this was such a customer communications no-no that it turned me off the organization and the missions it supports right there and then.

Rule number one in marketing is get your customer’s name right. Rule number two is be relevant.

Greenpeace failed on both counts.

When we give money or time and effort to a cause we care about, we get something in return. We are buying the “warm glow” that comes from “impure altruism,” a term coined in 1990 by a University of California economist called James Andreoni.

We don’t just do it to support a cause. We also do it because it feels good. And when it doesn’t feel good, we stop.

As a marketer, you have a responsibility to create, nurture and retain a relationship with your customer. Nonprofits have the same responsibility to their customers and that starts by getting a donor’s name right – especially when he or she is contributing to their cause.

Whether you are a for-profit business or a nonprofit, how you speak to your customers or donors matters. A lot. Customers want to feel like you truly value their business or their charitable contributions. When you know their names and what they like and don’t like, it shows you’ve taken the time to get to know them, which leads to a stronger – and longer – relationship with your brand.

Readers, this isn’t a takedown of nonprofits or of Greenpeace. It’s an example of what happens when marketers don’t do their homework: they send their valuable customers right out the door for good.

Now, does this mean I’m going to stop supporting the causes I care about? Absolutely not! It just means that I’m going to seek out other organizations that take the time and care to communicate with me.

What are some of the worst examples of poor customer communications you’ve seen? I encourage you to share them with our community in the section below.

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