No, that’s not the title of the latest Nicholas Sparks novel.  It’s your donors’ existence if you aren’t actively soliciting feedback.

For every complaint an organization hears, there are another 26 people with a similar complaint who stay silent.   This probably rings true in your own life – if you have a bad experience, andif you tell someone with the organization about it four percent of the time, you are about average.

This presents a challenge. How are you to find those valuable insights, the hidden truth, or the thing you’ve been trying to tell your boss is important for years but didn’t have data to back you up? It’s especially tough when it’s mixed in with the person who uses language to make a longshoreman blush and grammar that makes Twitter look like Strunk and White.

(I once had a person open their email with “You bunch of Nazi Jews!”  I resisted the temptation to write back “Pick one.”)

But there’s gold in them thar feedback hills.

At right is one large nonprofit’s experience.  How did they go from 12% to 32% conversion in a month for their web donation form? 

They started actively soliciting feedback from their donors and making changes to their donation form based on the feedback.

Not only were donors more likely to donate, but the people who rated their experience “very difficult” dropped from almost half to nearly zero.  As you might guess, these donors were far more likely to make a second gift online when the experience was very easy.  Instead of getting donations despite their form, they were getting them because of it.

But this was a large organization, you say.  They got enough feedback because they had a large sample size.  You have limited sample size and even more limited time: deadlines to meet, goals to hit, budgets to budget.  So the complaints get handled one by one, if at all.

At DonorVoice we help nonprofits collect feedback   And as we reviewed years of feedback surveys, there were common themes – things donors are telling or yelling at organizations.  Sadly, these valuable comments often get lost in the day-to-day because  they come in one at a time.

While there are certainly comments specific to each organization and thus general feedback is no substitute for specific feedback to your organization, there are also things that are said so often they become donor truths.

That’s why, in preparation for this Agitator feedback series,  I read every single one of 27,000 pieces of feedback.  Of these, there were over 12,000 free-response comments that people have made to ten different major nonprofit organizations who will remain nameless.  This includes the nine people who said “I have no advice.”, the three people who said “I have no advice. Thank you.”, the four people who said “I have no advise.”, and the person who said “I have no advised.”

Every. Single. One.

Thankfully, there were 12 categories of comments that accounted for almost ¾ of all substantive comments (I took out things like “No comment,” “Keep up the good work,” etc. that had no significant value to the organization, as well as things like “it was hard to donate” or “it was easy to donate” that had valence, but no advice).

Those 12 categories– in order,  from most responses to least:

  1. Stop adding channels I didn’t ask for!
  2. Don’t bury me in communications!
  3. I want more online giving options!
  4. Don’t you know who I am?
  5. Make it easier to donate online!
  6. Where’s my gift going?
  7. I want to talk with a person!
  8. Your membership program is a mess!
  9. Why doesn’t it save my info online?
  10. Is that really how you acknowledge my gift?
  11. I love your donor services people!
  12. That’s not what I saw online/offline!

This week, we’ll go through each of these categories of the most common comments to see what changes you can make to increase your donors’ satisfaction (other than donor services – apparently people generally already love donor services people!).

Nick