Why Customer Service Is Important For Nonprofits

July 30, 2012

Ken MuellerGuest Poster: Ken Mueller

It is my pleasure to introduce Ken Mueller, owner of Inkling Media, a social media, marketing and communications consultancy based in Lancaster, PA. Inkling Media offers a personal, hands-on approach that gives you the education and tools necessary to create and manage a successful Internet marketing program.

Nonprofit Customer Service | .org Text

Customer service isn’t just for businesses. Believe it or not, it’s just as important for nonprofits to make sure they are providing good customer service to the people they serve, as it is for a small or large business.

The problem is that nonprofits tend to take their identities very seriously and are loathe to adopt some of the industry terms that are used in the business world. The nonprofit world was slow to talk about things like marketing, and branding is a concept most are finally embracing. Even ROI is making headway.

For the most part this is because nonprofits view themselves very differently than businesses, and try too hard to avoid looking like a business. But the concept of customer service is still foreign to many nonprofits. After all, many really don’t have customers per se. They don’t offer a “product” in the traditional sense, and more often than not, no one is buying anything from them.

But the concept of customer service is incredibly important for nonprofits, as they are often dealing with not one, but two or three different constituencies.

  • Your clients and prospective clients are your customers — If you are a nonprofit that provides some sort of service, even if that service is 100% subsidized and no money changes hands, you need to treat them as if they were paying customers of a for-profit business. You want them to come back and tell others to visit.
  • Your donors are your customers – Nonprofits rely on the generosity of individuals to give financially, as well as sometimes donate specific items or goods. Like any business with customers, you want to attract both new donors and repeat/regular donors. You want them to continue giving and encourage others to give.
  • Your volunteers are customers – While they might not be giving their money, they are giving their time, and as a result, they need to receive some of the same treatment that is reserved for employees as well as customers. You want them to continue to volunteer and get others to also give of their time.

With all of these, you need to make them feel valued and appreciated. Whether they are giving or receiving, treat them with respect. Respond to phone calls and correspondence promptly. Be quick to troubleshoot problems and respond to negative comments online.

Use your online social presence to provide great customer service to all these constituents, as all of them might be connecting with you there.

Marketing’s greatest tool is word of mouth, and social media is predicated upon word of mouth. Happy clients/donors/volunteers will spread the word for you, and if they do so online, you’ll benefit from an increase in new clients/donors/volunteers.

And don’t forget the one aspect of your nonprofit that is tailor made for social media and word of mouth: your story.

Every one of your clients/donors/volunteers is a part of your story, and what makes you who you are. Include them in the story that you tell both online and offline. By recognizing them as a part of your story, and not just peripheral to your story, you are placing a greater importance on their role in what you do.

Try it. Think of these different groups of individuals as customers; people who have the ability to tell your story to others. But how you treat them will dictate the form that story takes.

Whether it’s the connection that your story creates or the personal touches you deliver to your stakeholders, if your nonprofit organization embraces great customer service, it will realize tangible results.
Guest Post Disclaimer: Guest Posts on the Customers That Stick blog are submitted by individual guest posters and in no way represent the opinions or endorsement of CTS Service Solutions, its owners or employees. CTS Service Solutions does not represent or guarantee the truthfulness, accuracy, or reliability of statements or facts posted by Guest Posters on this blog.

17 thoughts on “Why Customer Service Is Important For Nonprofits”

  1. Thanks, Ken–and Adam for posting. After working with a relatively new nonprofit to develop a USP (something that was entirely foreign to the founder), I was happy to see that nonprofits are making some progress toward seeing themselves as businesses.

    Something like a soup kitchen may have long lines, but is it because it’s the only soup kitchen in the area or because everyone knows they serve the best food and have the biggest smiles? People should hear about it, and healthy, consistent customer service is the best–and cheapest–way to get the word out!

    1. I like your perspective on that, Shakirah. I think in some areas where there are “competing” non-profits, customer service can definitely be a factor on who people choose. I have one non-profit client that has several divisions, including the largest homeless shelter/soup kitchen in the area. There are lots of soup kitchens in our area, and they all do a great job, and are all needed, but I think the customer service aspect at the one is one of the reasons why it is the largest.

  2. Great post, Ken. I read your article with one particular nonprofit in mind, the Rhode Island Blood Center. According to your tips here, they’re banging on all cylinders with customer service. Kathy Manchester is on top of their social media presence and monitoring, and does an incredible job there as well.

    1. Great to hear. I think non-profits are starting to get it. Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Thanks for thinking of us Michelle! I think this is a great post. People really do not realize the value of social media when it comes to both customer service and customer relations. All good points made here!

  3. Hi Ken,
    Great post. I would suggest that these issues are not just limited to not-for-profits but extend to all types of organisations. There’s a basic truth, I believe, that many organisations forget and that is people like dealing with organisations that like dealing with them and treat them well. Do that then they’ll talk about you and share you with everyone they know.


    1. Agreed. The customer service and experience aspect seems to have disappeared for awhile, and seems to be making a comeback. I think social media is one of the factors that is driving that. And this is also one of the reasons why I love what Adam is doing here on his blog and with his business.

  4. Ken,

    This is a great post because it breaks through the semantic barrier of what a “customer” is. Every organization has outside stakeholders that receive their services; approaching them with a customer service mindset is what can separate great organizations from the rest of the pack.

    Since the downturn, nonprofits have struggled to maintain their previous levels. Those who can prove that they are spending donated dollars effectively will have a leg up in the competition for scarce donation dollars. You make great points on how to do that.

    Thanks so much for stepping in and writing about an important customer service topic!

  5. You will never expect a non profit organization to be a customer oriented entity. Customer satisfaction is guaranteed when there is cut throat competition. Profit motive turns into wealth maximization motive with the satisfaction of their customers. First of all if you are not a profit motivated enterprise you’d never like to satisfy anyone..but as i see the comments above, it seems that they are back on track which is great.if social media is encouraging them to provide best to the customers then you are doing a great job Adam.. thumbs up to your work

    1. Thank you for the kind words Lokesh. You make a great point about competition in the for-profit sector. I think that has also been more of a factor with nonprofits since the economy went down — they are increasingly competing for fewer dollars.

  6. Thanks for this, Ken! Touches on a whole bevvy of important issues. I was trained to sell in a corporate setting, and now (try!) and use my skills for good by selling for a nonprofit. You are so correct in that most do not want to hear that they are, in fact, a business (as most artist do not want to hear the same, but that is another story…). My old school sales training included the notion of selling to internal customers- such an important, yet of forgotten, facet of the sales person. Acknowledging these three customer types is key for success! Thank you for sharing this.

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  10. Weak! While this all sounds nice and is similar to saying things like ” drive safely, ” its considered antiquated advice today. Most major companies gear up to advertise price, not customer satisfaction. Besides customer satisfaction can be swept under the rug. Look at ATT and TWarner, lots of ppl complain all the time about poor customer experiences and its completely ignored. I by no means advocate this, I’m just saying this is how it is today whether or not it shows morality is an entirely different subject. But customer service is no longer considered important to most companies today. Profit is everything and U R talking about increasing cost with no direct way of tying it to return. That is an old business model that has ended yrs ago…

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