Take the Cranky Calls

Elderly man complaining on phone

Tough Calls Produce Terrific Results

We all know them. The phone rings and the caller ID shows this is a call from someone who we know will be trouble. He or she is calling to complain, and it will not be pleasant.

Around the room, people suddenly get busy so they will not have to take the dreaded call. However, the next time someone calls to gripe to your nonprofit, don’t see it as a problem. Discover the opportunity it really is. Take the tough calls.

When I help others by teaching fundraising skills, the one thing I say we can all do to solidify or accelerate our careers that will have the biggest effort-to-payoff ratio is to take the hard phone calls. Grow your reputation as the one who takes these calls. Seek them. Ask for them. Make sure people know you want to take the tough calls. Your coworkers will love you and you will be glad you did.

Why? Because you know the secret. Cranky callers say one thing, but mean another.

The Real Issue

When a donor calls to complain, you will hear tough words. They will tell you how horrible it is that:

  1. You do not appreciate them (at all, enough, or the right way).
  2. Someone did not respond to a call or email.
  3. They do not like something they think your organization did.*
  4. Their pet hippopotamus is missing, and it is your fault.

However, no matter what the caller says, the underlying issue is always the same: The donor has loved us more than we have loved the donor. The script may be about not being properly recognized. The hurt is about, “How could you do this to me?” And that is something you can fix just by taking the tough call and listening.

In a world where everyone talks and no one listens, those who listen stand out.

In a world where everyone talks and no one listens, those who listen stand out.

When a complaint arrives, most fundraisers will respond with a list of reasons or excuses why the error occurred. But no one has ever won an argument like that. Don’t try to be the first in history by winning one with a donor. It won’t happen.

Instead, listen. Be a friend. Don’t say anything other than, “I understand why that would be upsetting to you,” or “that’s horrible,” or “I would be concerned just like you are.” Admittedly, this takes a little humility. However, remember your job is not to be right. Your job is to have authentic relationships with the people who power your mission. We always want to be honest with ourselves and our donors, including the grumpy ones.

The next time someone calls with a complaint, remember the call began with a pain—one that was significant enough for the donor to call. Consider, too, that the ones who call are the ones who want the situation made better. It is the ones who don’t call, and who tell others about their misfortune, that cause the most grief.

Want to be a hero? Take the tough calls. You may discover they aren’t so tough after all.

*Most of the time when I take calls and they relate to something they “heard,” it is frequently incorrect information or another organization that someone mistook for ours.

All of our blogs, products and services are proudly conceived, created, reviewed, and disseminated by real humans — not A.I. (artificial “intelligence.”)

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