Archive for January 28th, 2010

Fundraising Pyramids Part II – Customer Service Debacles

Posted on January 28, 2010. Filed under: Customer Service, Fundraising, Leadership, Non-profits, Volunteer |

Non-Profit Fundraising Pyramids are Not Built from the Top Down – Part II
Customer Service Debacles

How one non-profit lost a donor, or, the next time I drive 300 miles to visit your museum, and I bring my family, give me my damn hat!

In Part I, I used the example of how a farmer when planting an apple orchard doesn’t know in advance which ones are going to be great producers, consistent supporters, or just wither and die. This is the story of our summer vacation and how the actions of one well meaning, but rigid, staff person killed off any desire by me to ever give this non-profit any money again.

Okay, maybe not a debacle, but let me share with you my experience with poor customer service from a non-profit organization that was one of the places my family and I visited this summer. I am going to identify them by name, not to pick a fight but rather because as soon as I would say “living history museum dealing with 19th century sailing ships” everyone would know that I was talking about Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.

I do think that many times the non-profit world puts blinders on about the reality of the different types of fundraising that they are going to be able to attract. I’m still working on a system that identifies these but as a working effort, let’s just say that there’s some combination of degree of interest and geography. Despite Seth Godin’s statement that “Geography Doesn’t Matter” in some cases it actually does. I do agree that depending upon the issue, it is less important than it used to be, and in some cases, it truly does not matter, but not in this case.

I live in Virginia, but have some good connections to New England and this summer my family and I visited Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut which is about 40 minutes away from my cousin’s home. Yes, we did have dinner at Mystic Pizza. Our exact logistics were decided at the very last minute because of work considerations, so as I checked the Mystic Seaport website I saw that by becoming a member, I would get a baseball cap as a premium and it was about the same as buying 4 tickets (slightly more expensive) than just buying the tickets.

My sons are in fourth and fifth grade and my intent was to get one “free” hat and then buy another one at the gift store so that each boy would have a hat as souvenir, etc. Mystic Seaport’s procedure is that they mail you a “token” that you have to turn into the visitor center to get the hat. Well, I become a member about the day before we left so I certainly did not have a token with me when we visited the visitor center. I did have the e-mails confirming my membership number, etc. When I asked if I get the hat that was included as part of becoming a member and explained the travel situation, I was told no, I had to have the token that was the only possible way I could get the hat.

Well, I didn’t make a big deal about, it wasn’t worth arguing or trying to find someone higher up because it was nice, sunny summer day and we had activities that we wanted to do. And in this case, geography does matter. If I lived a 30 minutes away, I would have probably been back sometime in the fall and could have gotten the hat then. This however is where geography does matter, I live 300 miles away and I’m not going to be a casual visitor. I also will never be a donor and I’m sure their development office is saying, “Gee, why aren’t our member retention numbers better?”

I like history, I like maritime history, but it’s not a “cause/issue” that I am absolutely passionate about. There are other ocean research and maritime museums closer to me on the Chesapeake Bay or in Virginia Beach, if I visit one of those I may choose to become a member.

The point about this post is from both a customer service (and lack there of) perspective, as well as a fundraising one. I would have probably never become a major donor, but I might have supported them for a few years, but not now.

Do you know what’s actually going in the front lines of your non-profit (by all staff, volunteer and paid that has customer/donor interactions)?

If you don’t have some friends of yours call and let your know what their experience was. It can’t be you; with caller ID you won’t get the same treatment and reaction as a stranger.


Bill Huddleston

(Still hatless).

P.S. Go to to request your 2010 Special Report about the CFC.

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    Fundraising and Leadership Development through workplace giving, CFC = Combined Federal Campaign


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