The customer is always right.
That's the mantra of the customer service revolution. It has been for years. (Odd how infrequently one encounters it as a customer, isn't it?)
It's smart customer service, and it has been imported into many nonprofit donor-service groups. It hasn't been all good. A misapplied "always right" approach plays havoc with the very idea of charitable giving to change the world.
A donor calls with one of the common complaints such as "I'm getting too much mail."
The nonprofit employee, well-schooled in customer service, says something like, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry we send too much mail. Let me make it reasonable for you."
You see, the donor was not right in that situation. She was right that she was getting more mail than she wanted, but she was wrong that you were sending too much.
Every time someone issues a well-meaning apology like that, it kills your brand. Makes a mockery of your cause. Not only that, but it undermines the brand of every nonprofit organization that seeks the support and partnership of donors.
Apologizing for sending "too much mail" (or your sense of urgency, or your use of images, or any of those things donors might complain about) amounts to an open admission that your fundraising is merely a "technique," not a response to the real needs your organization is addressing.
You might as well say you don't really believe in your cause as apologize for sending to much mail.
Your answer to those complaints should be: We send the amount of mail we do because our cause is urgent. If we sent less, more needs would go unmet.
I'm not saying you should ever argue with complaining donors about their complaints. In the end, you must do exactly what the donor wants. If she wants less mail, send her less mail.
But you should never apologize for effective fundraising. Maybe they'll catch your passion and come to see more deeply how important they are to you.
Unless your frequency or style are just phony techniques you use to trick donors into giving more.
If that's the case, you need to do a lot more than apologize to complainers. You need to apologize to the entire world for being crappy and insincere and get out of fundraising as quickly as possible.
(This post first appeared on June 4, 2014.)