Just Say You're Sorry!

| by Bert Armstrong

Sometimes, a simple mistake can ruin a good thing.

I support several organizations that mean a lot to my family and me.  There are a chosen few that mean enough that I want to be sure I am being a faithful and regular supporter. For these I have chosen to contribute by allowing them to debit my credit card monthly.  They each receive a relatively small amount from these monthly payments, but they add up to what I consider generous annual gifts from our family.  The process is simple and I highly recommend this approach (or similar approaches through electronic transfers from your checking account) for supporting causes that mean a lot to you.

With that said, I want to share a disappointing experience with one of these “chosen” charities that has yet to be resolved.  Near the end of 2011, I received an email informing me that an error in a recent data system conversion led to my automatic monthly deduction accidentally being deleted from their system.  Turns out this incident happened much earlier in the year and they were just now catching the error.  So they had not been receiving monthly gifts from me for some time.

I get it.  Mistakes happen.

But there was no apology!  Nowhere in this very short and impersonal email, did the sender use words or phrases like “we are sorry,” or “we regret that this error has interrupted your charitable intent.”  At no time in the days after sending the email did anyone call me to discuss what happened, offer any regret, or to take the initiative to correct the situation.  Instead, all I got was “please call our office so that we can re-authorize your payments and continue your generous support for...” (not the exact words but that is the sentiment that came across)

It’s been almost a year since my last gift was received and I have yet to receive a phone call or even another letter trying to resolve this and get me back on a regular giving pattern – this, after they had received five years’ worth of regular unrestricted gifts every month.

I suppose I could take the high road and pick up the phone and call them myself.  Or maybe I could just fill out a new monthly giving form and send it in.  But the tone and the lack of attention from the organization left a bit of a sour taste that could have been avoided with a simple apology for an honest mistake.  As a long time donor, I think I deserve that.

Ironically, I recently received an appeal letter from this organization asking me to consider a contribution.  It had a bulk mail postage stamp and was addressed to “Dear Mr   ARMSTRONG” (note the grammar error and the extra spaces between words).  Clearly it was one of a large batch of electronically generated letters.   In the first paragraph it read, “We’ve missed you.”  Does anyone want to take bets on how much I contributed in response to this letter?

If you work for a nonprofit, do you have plans in place to ensure good stewardship and identify and rectify problems that arise with donors? If so, join the conversation and share your approach.  If you are a donor, let us hear your stories of stewardship efforts done well, or those that have gone awry.

Bert Armstrong is a co-founder and principal of Armstrong McGuire & Associates. 


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