Look, Smile, Thank

I was driving from Fort Lauderdale to Orlando and stopped over at a service plaza to grab a quick dinner. The restaurant was a cafeteria-style Italian restaurant where you were issued a still-damp red plastic tray and had to navigate the different “Tastes of Italy” to assemble your own personal dinner courses. As I was checking out, my eye happened to catch a small message taped to the top of the clerks computer monitor.

In case you can’t read it, the message says:

Look at the Customer.
Smile at the Customer.
Thank the Customer.

As you can tell, I only dine at the finest restaurants.

At first I scoffed at this tiny employee manual cheat sheet. ‘Do people really need to be instructed in how to be kind and courteous?’

But as I thought about it more, I realized that this tiny treatise contains the essentials of a donor or customer retention program. Let me break it down:

  1. Look at the Customer. Too often we communicate with our donors with our heads down. We break into our well-rehearsed ask and don’t make much of an effort to make our message relevant to the person to whom it is intended to reach. If we took a good look at our donors, we may discover that what motivates them to support our cause is vastly different from what we think motivates them. This is why donor research and data analytics is so very important. In order to engage our donors in a conversation, we must understand what motivates and drives them to take action.

  2. Smile at the Customer. If we are doing noble work (and I would reason that everyone reading this is indeed doing noble work), shouldn’t we be more joyful? Shouldn’t our messages to our donors reflect that joyfulness? Too often we shroud our fundraising messages in doom-and-gloom, if-you-don’t-give-now-then-bad-things-are-going-to-happen type rhetoric. Why? We should be asking for support with a smile on our face because we know that the work that we are doing is worth it, that the difference that we can make is real, and that the support that we receive connects our organization to our donors. We need to tell people the exciting things that are happening. We need to tell them what their donation is accomplishing. We need to engage cheerful givers.

  3. Thank the Customer. If there is one thing that most nonprofits do a poor job at, it is thanking donors. Too often, we become so acquisition-focused that we neglect the big gaping hole we have in our current donor file. Most of the attrition that nonprofits experience is because donors a) don’t feel that their donation is making an impact; b) don’t feel connected to the organization; and c) don’t think that their donation will be missed. By simply thanking our donors we can overcome two of these main causes of donor attrition and make our donors feel more appreciated.

So maybe we can all take a lesson from the Italian buffet place and tape a little reminder to our computer screens:

Look at the Donor.
Smile at the Donor.
Thank the Donor.


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