How to Handle a Donor Complaint

Posted on 12/08/2019

Wouldn’t it be nice if 100% of your donors were happy 100% of the time? Despite your best efforts, a time will come when a supporter will contact you with a complaint. It might be because their name was spelled wrong on an appeal or because they weren’t invited to an important event. Perhaps the phonathon calls them too often or your office underreported their gift amount on the annual donor report. Sometimes grievances could have been avoided—someone wasn’t paying close enough attention or simply made a mistake. Other times, it’s out of your control. 

Knowing how to respond and what to do when a gripe comes your way is as important as knowing how to solicit a donation or write a gift acknowledgment. Here are a few simple steps to guide you in your response when a donor complains: the 3 A’s

  1. Accept – Take responsibility for the issue on behalf of the institution. Don’t get into the details of what happened or which individual or process might have caused the problem. And whatever you do, don’t imply that the donor could be at fault. Simply let them know that you’ve heard their concern and that the institution takes things like this seriously.
  2. Apologize – Simply say you’re sorry. There’s no need to overstate things. Less is more. “We’re very sorry that this happened” is almost always enough. 
  3. Act – Tell them what you’re going to do to fix it. If it’s clear how the problem can be corrected, then explain that in detail. If it’s not clear what needs to be done, let them know that you’re going to look into it right away to come up with a solution. Don’t make promises you can’t fulfill. The most important thing is that the donor knows that some kind of action will be taken and that it is less likely that the issue will arise again in the future. 

Following the 3 A’s when dealing with a complaint will not only prevent the issue from escalating into a bigger problem, but it may even end up being a good donor cultivation move. If handled properly, a complaint today could lead to an opportunity tomorrow.


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