At least half of the 12 biggest banks in America are developing or have released live chat capabilities on their websites according to a piece in yesterday's iMedia Connection. Well, if big banks –not usually associated with terms like “cutting-edge” or “personal service” — can use live chats to give their customers help with loans and pitch new services, why hasn't the non-profit world leaped on this?

The enormous potential for better communications, more effective advocacy, upgraded contributions, sales of merchandise and just plain increased donor loyalty are obvious.

So why isn't this happening? Probably because 'donor service' is viewed as a must-tolerate expense, but “Hey, let's keep the costs down.” And of course there's “Hey, how can we afford to monitor our website 24 hours a day?” Or, “We don't want to look too much like Big Brother.”

Well, I'd argue that non-profits can ill afford NOT to be experimenting with and testing this inexpensive technology. Not when the bankers are reporting that their online customers maintain 25% bigger account balances. And certainly not when more and more members/donors/information seekers are coming on line.

I hope it's obvious from the number of our posts on donor loyalty, retention and the dramatic rise in the use of new media to suggest we think a sea change is at hand. And, as is always the case, many organizations won't wake up until it's too late and a more donor-friendly competitors have eaten their lunch.

We'd love to hear from those who are using or have seen on-line chat effectively used by a charity, educational, or advocacy organization.

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