I once had a rather nice Italian linen suit. Back in the day when a rather baggy disheveled look was cool. Or so I thought at the time. One day when I went to collect it from the dry cleaner’s, the manager rushed forward with some rather bad news. “I’m really sorry, but we’ve destroyed your suit”, he said. My jaw dropped. “Before you say anything”, he said, “I can’t apologize enough, but please will you go into town and buy any suit you like, and just bring me the bill. I mean it, any suit you like.”
Well, that took the wind out of my sails. It was a drag, of course, but he’d admitted an honest mistake and his immediate reaction was an unexpected surprise. What was there to be angry about? He went on to show me how, indeed, my suit had been irreparably damaged with huge chemical streaks. Well, it was a bit out-of-date anyway, I conceded, and we had a laugh. A few weeks later when I’d found one, I took him the bill for my new suit, which in spite of his offer was no more expensive than the one he’d destroyed. I’ve been taking my dry cleaning to the same place ever since.
Another time I had an experience with a garage that went the other way. My local garage had been servicing my clapped out car for years. It was just the local garage, after all, just servicing, just what you expect. And then one Friday afternoon, just before we were going away for the weekend, something wasn’t working. “No can do,” said the garage, “I can fit you in on Tuesday”. Our weekend away started to evaporate. But before it did, I tried a quick call to another local garage, “Bring it round now”. My car was quickly fixed, and then he said, “I know you’re in a rush to get away. Pop in next week and we’ll sort the bill out then”. Wow. Who serviced my car after that?
So there’s service, and then there’s service. There are expectations met, and then there are expectations exceeded. Meeting expectations is easy, and you don’t get any gold stars for doing what you say you’re going to do. That’s just the deal, and if you can’t even do that, you’re in big trouble. But every now and then a moment comes around when you have the opportunity to show your customer (read supporter) that there’s more to you than that. A moment of truth. You have to blow them away, not blow it. Get it wrong, and you’ve lost them. Get it right, and as Maya Angelou said, they won’t forget how you made them feel. These are WOW moments, and I talk about them all the time. Ask any fundraising team I’ve worked with. I’ve even adopted the word.
When I was Fundraising Director at Greenpeace USA a few years ago, we had a supporter who gave a huge amount of money in memory of her son, who had died tragically. With it, we bought a RIB – one of those orange inflatable boats Greenpeace is famous for. It was sent to join the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, which was on a mission to stop Japanese whalers in the Antarctic Southern Ocean. And the RIB was named the Billy G.
As it happened, Celeste Stewart, the manager of our mid-donor programme, got the chance to join the Esperanza’s mission for three months as Assistant Cook. (I know, I know, don’t even ask). Celeste knew Billy G’s mother, knew the whole story. And even knew Billy G’s birthday, which came up while she was on board. She organised the crew into the Billy G for a photo. One photo, used only once, as a gift to Billy G’s mother to mark his birthday. Wow!
Can you deliver the same wow moment to everyone, all the time? No. But you can make sure you have an attitude and approach aimed at giving supporters a better experience than they expect, and then wow moments will come. I had a couple of simple wow moments recently as examples. Probably like you, I got several Christmas emails from charities I support. Very easy to do. But also very easy to ignore. I also got three proper Christmas cards. Just for being a supporter. And they stood out for being unexpected.
In the UK charity shops have a scheme where deductible tax on the value of your donated junk can be reclaimed by the charity, adding 25%. The necessary admin allows the charity to write to you to let you know what your junk sold for. My last email told me my junk had been turned into gold – £395, enough to help villagers in Sri Lanka adapt their farming to cope with climate change. Wow!
And last week, the charity for which I’m a trustee – Mines Advisory Group, who clears landmines to free people from danger and fear – held a Thankathon. For a whole day, trustees joined staff (all staff, not just fundraisers) calling supporters, just to thank them. I called donors who had given £10 or so every month for ten or fifteen years. Hand-signed thank you cards went out, emails and text messages. Country offices made thank you videos to share. And the supporter feedback was incredible. “I’ve never had a call like that before”, I heard more than a few times. Wow!
Doing the basics of what’s expected is fine, but leaves no real impression. It’s looking for and taking advantage of every opportunity to exceed expectations that will surprise, and enhance your reputation and your relationships. It’s depressing that amazing supporter care has often been viewed as a cost rather than a necessity. Does it add value, people ask? Can you demonstrate an ROI? As it happens, at Greenpeace we did see our supporter retention measurably and dramatically improve as a result of the supporter engagement approach we took. Our friends at Target Analytics confirmed it. But you know what, sometimes its just the right thing to do.
If your charity has only just come to its senses because of recruitment challenges and in the UK at least, the recent scandals of bad fundraising: don’t worry. It’s never too late to start. You have supporters out there with very low expectations of you. It shouldn’t be hard to wow them. And if you don’t, other charities will.