One of the most important activities for a nonprofit is the handling of incoming communications from donors. Because nonprofits depend on donors to fund the programs and operations that serve the organization’s mission, using these interactions to build and maintain a strong donor base is fundamentally important. Below, I’ve outlined some best practices for using your contact center to enhance donor lifetime value.
Be Responsive and Available
When receiving a call or e-mail from a donor, responsiveness is key. You don’t want to risk annoying a donor or giving them an unfavorable impression by making them wait to connect to reach a customer service representative or receive a response to an e-mail. A key rule of thumb should be to answer at least 80 percent of calls within 20 seconds and maintaining an abandon rate of less than three percent.
Produce a High Level of Service
Staff should be hired who believe in the mission of the organization, and who can be both comfortable and enthusiastic answering the types of calls and e-mails that are received by the nonprofit. Staff answering calls or emails should be carefully trained in both hard and soft skills to make sure that donors have a positive experience. Doing so will add to your donors’ favorable perceptions of the organization and make future gifts more likely.
The vast majority of calls or e-mails from donors are routine or transactional and are easily handled. It’s a good idea to categorize incoming communications, perhaps designating them as tier 1, tier 2 or tier 3, from simple to complex. More involved interactions can be passed along to senior staff who have the skill and experience to provide a more comprehensive level of interaction as needed.
It’s important to speak the donor’s language – literally. In some instances callers speak a different language, and if you can offer Spanish or other language lines for certain customers, you can widen your reach and effectiveness.
Gather Information to Strengthen Relationships
Once a donor takes the initiative and calls in, you have an excellent opportunity to quickly establish rapport and cultivate the relationship. Taking the conversation beyond the reason the reason the donor is calling about, you can verify information such as phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and also ask donors about their top issues or concerns. This information can then be used to tailor communications and marketing efforts based on those interests. You can also inform and update callers on the organization’s upcoming activities that may be of interest to them. Think of these interactions as a two-way information exchange.
Acknowledge Donor Contributions
Out-bound personal thank you calls to donors are very effective. A simple 30-second thank you call without a re-ask is a great way to foster good donor relations and often results in a higher donation the next time.
On the other hand, if you do decide to ask for a contribution while a donor is on the phone, you can tailor the request based on the direction the conversation takes. You might ask for a donation for a specific current appeal or to help defray the cost of a premium the donor has requested. The resulting contributions from these requests can go a long way toward maximizing lifetime donor value. At Merkle Response, we have a client whose donation up-sell/cross-sell program nearly pays for the cost of the contact center operation.
Decide Whether or Not to Outsource
For handling donor calls and e-mails there are a number of benefits to outsourcing your contact center operations to an experienced and trusted partner. Staff costs are high in many urban areas where most nonprofits are located so outsourcing often costs less. In addition, staffing to the peaks and valleys of your call and e-mail activity can be challenging and adds to your hiring and management costs.
Make sure you engage an outsourced service provider with specific experience handling donor calls and e-mails for nonprofits. Your contact center partner should take the time to fully understand your specific needs and how you want to engage with your donor base.
To be effective, a nonprofit needs to be available when donors are. Most nonprofits have standard office hours and aren’t able to handle calls with live operators outside of those hours. Outsourced contact centers typically offer extended hours and therefore more opportunities to engage with and respond to your donors.
Regardless of whether you handle donor phone calls or emails in house or by using an outsourced call center, by taking a planned, considered approach and tracking all interactions carefully, you can enhance donor lifetime value and positively affect the success of your mission. So, when determining what approach to take with your non-profit, be sure to keep factors such as responsiveness, quality of service and extended availability in mind.
Take A Look at the Future
Social media is emerging as an effective two-way communications tool to inform and update donors. You can use social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to keep them informed about your organization and its mission. It is also a great opportunity to increase engagement with donors by giving them another touch point to connect with your organization.
How is your organization using social media to communicate with donors? What else are you doing through your contact center to enhance relationships with your donors and increase their lifetime value to your organization?