You’re in a relationship with your nonprofit constituents. And in any relationship, you’ll have times of intense connection and times of conflict. The important thing to realize is that conflict is an opportunity to make that relationship closer, to react effectively to your nonprofit constituents and build trust—the most important part of the donor-nonprofit relationship.
When your donors are unhappy with your organization, here are the three steps you need to take to strengthen your relationship:
Every healthy relationship is built on a foundation of listening. Look at this story about how Maker’s Mark bourbon whiskey adapted to customer complaints: they didn’t just make a change and tell their loyal customers about it after the fact. They respected the relationship, and announced their intended changes. Then they listened. The customers spoke. And they were not happy.
Make sure your nonprofit has systems of listening in place. If you’re making a big change or launching a campaign, talk to your loyal donors first! Get their opinions. Find out what they think. If you are doing a fundraiser, ask your constituents what they’d most enjoy. Give them three ideas you have. Listen.
2) Show Them You Listened
When Maker’s Mark learned how upset their customers were by the impending changes to their bourbon, they didn’t just listen. They proved to their customers that they were listening and that they cared by publishing a letter:
We’re humbled by your overwhelming response and passion for Maker’s Mark. While we thought we were doing what’s right, this is your brand – and you told us in large numbers to change our decision.
Look at that willingness to be corrected. Look how they affirm and restate what their audience told them. A great nonprofit does the same—they figure out what their constituents are saying, and then let them know they understand. Once you know what’s important to donors, you acknowledge their concerns, their fears or their anger. This affirmation is important.
3) Take Action
After you’ve listened and proved to your constituents that you understand their position, it’s time to act. Most people are good at this step. But acting before listening and affirming will only erode a relationship’s trust. Here’s how Makers’ Mark took action:
Effective immediately, we are reversing our decision to lower the ABV of Maker’s Mark, and resuming production at 45% alcohol by volume (90 proof). Just like we’ve made it since the very beginning.
Now that’s action! Once you’ve listened to your nonprofit constituents, you need to act, and let them know the action you’re taking. If you hear they want more information about where their donation dollars are going, tell them what you’re going to do in response, and then take action.
Note: the action you take doesn’t need to be the action your constituents are most comfortable with. It just needs to be the right one. But even if you act against your constituents wishes, you need to do it after listening to your supporters and engaging in that conversation–otherwise, they won’t feel heard, and will revolt when you take action.
So remember: listen, show them that you listened and take action.