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Customer Service for the Nonprofit in the Social Media Age

Nonprofit organizations need to practice great customer service for their primary customers (those who use their services) as well as their supporting customers (volunteers and donors). If the staff and volunteers working for your mission aren’t practicing quality Customer Service, it’s a turn-off. And with Facebook, You Tube, Twitter and other social media platforms, it’s good communication practice to assure that all people understand that working as staff or volunteer assumes a good attitude when interacting with primary and supporting customers in these media, too.

How do we know when we’re providing “good” Customer Service? When we survey our customers and they respond that they are satisfied. Doing spot surveys of our customers to check in on customer satisfaction is a good idea for nonprofits, as it is for commercial companies.

Some companies use Feedback Loops to learn how they are doing. In the United Kingdon, National Express, a public transport company, invites commuters to text about their experience while they are commuting. This kind of check up tells the company how they are doing.

I suggest that you ask board members how their companies check on Customer Service. Take a few minutes at your next board meeting for a conversation on this topic. Discuss how you might apply the concept at your nonprofit. If you have a communication or public relations committee, and a staff person with responsibility in this area, ask them to do a bit of research on how to go about assessing and improving Customer Service in a 21st Century work environment. Come up with a plan and incorporate it in the performance review process at your workplace in the upcoming year. Assure that it becomes integrated and part of the job.

Taking steps to assure that your primary and supporting customers are satisfied with service at your nonprofit will deliver positive returns.

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Board Essentials: Part 5: Hearing Our Customers

Fall of 2010, I did a Board Essentials series on nonprofit governance.

Opening with “Parameters” that govern how nonprofits operate, I moved on the “Roles” of Board members, “Strategic Work” of Boards, and wrapped up with how Board members can “Engage Networks” to help advance the nonprofit they care most about.

This year, the series will focus on the nonprofit’s marketplace: where and how staff and volunteers find and work with its customers.

And let’s start this off in listening mode.  Of course, we’ll have messages we want to communicate. We’ll have a brand to uphold. Our nonprofit will articulate goals and strategies to move our mission forward and we’ll want to let our friends, supporters, stakeholders know what all this is.  But first and foremost, we must listen.

What floats the boat of our donors?  What has motivated them to give to our cause in the past?  What is the special value we’re bringing to our clients?  Or, as Peter Drucker would instruct us: our Primary Customers.  What are we delivering that keeps bringing them back to us for service? That makes them want to tell the story for us?  That earns the support of their families to our cause?  Let’s first and foremost hear what our customers have to say to us.   And let us reflect those messages they have for us back in our words to our target audiences about mission, values, goals, brand….clearly, succinctly.

The better we hear, the better response we’ll get back from our primary (client) customers and supporting (donors, volunteers) customers.


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Board Building a la Kay Sprinkel Grace

There are a couple of “go to” authorities in nonprofit leadership: One is Peter F Drucker, the legend who lived and worked well into his nineties, and whose Drucker Foundation morphed into Leader-to-Leader, a great source in developing sustainable nonprofit organizations. In a future blog post, I’ll talk about the strategic approach Leader-to-Leader recommends nonprofits take: very market and customer focused.
Today I want to share some wisdom of another thought leader in nonprofit leadership, board work, and particularly fund development: Kay Sprinkel Grace.
Ms. Grace has helped raise millions for Stanford University making practical application of her principles in building effective nonprofit organizations.
I highly recommend her The Ultimate Board Members Book (January, 2009, Emerson & Church). Here’s a link: It’s a quick read (she claims 60 minutes) and provides soup-to-nuts on how boards can orient themselves to advance the mission of their nonprofit.
In my work with nonprofit boards, I always trot out her presentation on AAA Boards which she presented to the Association of Nonprofit Professionals in Toronto in 2004. Here’s a link to that PDF: Boards achieve their highest level of performance when it’s clear who are the best Ambassadors, who are the best Advocates, and who are the Askers. Board members need to be clear on what their role is: their group responsibilities (fiduciary, legal, loyalty) as well as individual roles to fill. Achieving clarity of purpose and mission focus helps get the noprofit moving in the right direction. Consultants in board development to nonprofit organizations should always circle back to these fundamentals. And there is no better well to drink from than that of Kay Sprinkel Grace who helps us align our action with our mission.

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