TrueSense Marketing  ●  6/29/2021

Thank You for Your Grace! 4 Tips to Ensure Lasting Donor Relationships


Four tips on how to make sure the relationships you have built with your donors LAST beyond the occasional mistakes and misunderstandings that come up in every donor service department.

Let’s face it — as hard as we try, there is no way to avoid the upset donor call. And whether or not the source of the donor’s frustration is an actual mistake or a misunderstanding (on their part or your organization), the goal is always the same: Keep the relationship intact!


Here are 4 tips to help ensure you have a happy donor at the end of every call that starts with a problem:


If the call has been transferred to you and you have a general idea of why the person is calling, you should provide them with what you know about the situation to begin the call. Otherwise, ask a simple, disarming question like, “I understand we’ve missed the mark on donor satisfaction today. That’s never our goal. How can I help you?” Your main objective is to get them to talk. Having the upset person feel heard is crucial in moving from unsatisfied to satisfied. Once they start talking, LISTEN, take notes, and let them finish before you ask any clarifying questions. Once you have all the information you believe you need, you are ready to move to the next step.


Please note that the next step is not defend, explain, excuse, or assign blame. At the very least, something about the processes and procedures your organization utilizes has caused your donor to be upset. You like your donor. You don’t want them to be upset. Be as specific as possible and apologize. Here are some samples to get you started:

  1. I understand that receiving a newsletter and a receipt from us in two separate envelopes on the same day is not an efficient use of postage. I appreciate you bringing this to our attention. I apologize for the frustration this situation caused.
  2. I’m so sorry we misspelled your name again. I know how frustrating that can be.
  3. Our goal is to send a receipt out within 48 hours of receiving a gift. We are so grateful for your generosity and I’m sorry you are having to contact us to get this sorted out.
  4. It sounds like our communication strategy has become a source of irritation for you rather than a source of inspiration. Obviously that’s not our goal. I’m very sorry.

Once you’ve delivered your apology, it’s time to gently pivot from problem to solution.


Obviously, SOLVE is the trickiest step of all because it depends on what the issue is. In two of the scenarios above, you probably aren’t going to be able to implement the solution the donor is suggesting, but you might be able to get close. For example, chances are that the reason a newsletter and a receipt might end up at someone’s home on the same day is because they are sent from two different sources. Receipts may be sent directly from your organization, and newsletters might be produced and mailed through an agency partner. What you can do is reaffirm their intention to help and negotiate. Here’s an example:

“I’m not sure I can bundle everything you might receive from us on a given day in exactly the way that you are suggesting, although you’ve given me a new efficiency goal to ponder, but I can think of a couple of ways we might be able to do better right now. With the exception of receipts, our communication calendar is staggered to avoid the exact scenario you are calling about. But because we like to send receipts out as soon as possible, they are the ‘unknown’ factor. Is it important for you to get a paper receipt each time you make a gift, or would a year-end statement work for you?”


Speaking with an upset donor may not be something you look forward to, but it’s important to remember that they could have simply stopped giving to your organization. Instead, they took the time to call and give you the opportunity to engage with them. That’s a gift that deserves a thank you. A simple “Thank you so much for taking the time to bring this to our attention. I really appreciate your call and the grace you extended in this situation.”


The next time someone transfers an upset donor call to you, take a deep breath and be grateful for the opportunity to build relationships that last.


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