Deep down, nonprofits begin from the same place: a need to propel change. As organizations grow, the mission is seemingly the primary driver behind recruiting support. However, don’t assume the mission alone will sustain that connection—organizations should never lose sight of customer experience.

Though nonprofits tend to speak less about branding than for-profits do, they’re still bound by branding rules. Unfortunately, many nonprofits don’t lean on customer experience to enrich their brands—and it’s costing them. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, less than a quarter of American households invest disposable income in charitable giving, proof that philanthropic instincts seem to be shrinking with each generation.

Don’t take experience for granted

Big corporations and nonprofits are in the same boat: Neither can afford to neglect customers. Just look at how the #DeleteFacebook movement affected the social media platform membership in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica incident: A Top10VPN.com study revealed that the number of Canadian members dropped 175 percent in one month. In the same time period, users in the United States and United Kingdom dipped by 132 and 101 percent, respectively, proving that negative interactions turn off customers in droves.

Ignoring customer service also breeds inconsistency. Financial support and partnerships suffer when brand presence is unstable. Finally, poor customer service can feast on a nonprofit’s internal culture and dilute its mission. Without clarity, employees and volunteers can’t meet supporters’ expectations.

Obviously, no nonprofit wants to flirt with disaster. Instead, move forward by utilizing existing and expected customer experience to heighten your brand’s effectiveness.

Know what your constituents expect

You already have your brand, so it’s time to further define it and gain a better understanding of your target segments. Start by asking “why” five times to determine what your nonprofit means to others. For instance, if your nonprofit focuses on rescuing unwanted cats, you can drill down to better serve the public and your mission.

In this case, begin by asking a hypothetical—or real—customer, “Why do you want to save unwanted cats?” The answer might be: “Because I don’t want them to be euthanized.” Then ask, “Why don’t you want them to be euthanized?”, to which your customer could reply, “They deserve the chance to be loved by a caring person or family.” And so on.

Every “why” draws you closer to understanding your nonprofit’s appeal to a specific slice of the population. Use the information to generate stronger emotional content.

Create cohesive inside-out interactions

Your message and customer experiences don’t begin with outsiders; they begin with internal staff. Make sure your team is a cohesive unit to drive strong messaging and response. It can also promote a richer culture where employees and volunteers can consistently carry out your brand’s objectives.

As your group forms stronger bonds, your nonprofit will more easily feed strategies to create great customer experiences. Over time, those micro-level goals will make your mission more quantifiable.

If you want to grow partnerships, be picky about them

Nonprofits should form partnerships; doing so brings on people who have skills and perspectives you may not, which ultimately better serves your customers. However, when customers discover you’re tethered to another organization, they’ll approach the situation like they’re meeting your spouse.

For instance, Special Olympics partners with organizations—such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Golisano Foundation, and Hasbro—that align with its dedication to athletics and children with different abilities. Customers can see the organization’s partners page and know immediately that Special Olympics is partnering strategically. Just as you’d choose your significant other carefully, do the same with all partnerships.

Today’s nonprofits are scrutinized more than ever. Instead of taking chances, explore your customer service—amazing discoveries are just waiting to support your goals.


Margaret Rogers is a vice president at Pariveda Solutions, a consulting firm driven to create innovative, growth-oriented, and people-first solutions. With more than 17 years of experience, Margaret enjoys empowering organizations with impactful and sustainable transformation to realize their full potential. Read more about the work Pariveda Solutions does here.