So this may turn into a minor rant but the intention is to make anyone in business (and a charity should really be treated as such) think about how easy it is to contact them and for people that want to donate either time or money to their cause to interact with them.
In this day and age of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, e-mails and a plethora of other communication platforms it should be pretty straightforward to contact , and get a response in a timely manner, from your charity and if it isn't you risk losing support. With so much competition for donations it should all be about the 'customer' experience and by customer I mean the member of the public that has shown an interest in supporting you .
How many of you have been frustrated trying to get through to a large organisation either by phone with numerous options, or by trawling through a website trying to find an e-mail address to send a query ? Virtually everyone I suspect. I've just spent the last week trying to donate over £150 to two different charities and have had two very different experiences, both of which could have been better.
So where to start ? Most people would ideally like to pick up a phone and speak to a person but this isn't always possible in a small charity or one that works over a number of time zones. Also how would you manage having a single contact number that would need to be diverted to different people at different times ? Do you need it manned 24/7 (Unlikely), is there a need for immediate contact ?
In most cases the best means of contact would be either e-mail and/or Facebook and both have their unique benefits.
Given the risk of getting spammed most websites these days shy away from publishing an e-mail address that can be lifted off a webpage and instead opt for a form for you to complete. The benefit of this is you can make certain fields mandatory to ensure you capture all the information you require to answer the specific query. You can have one single contact point rather than a series of different e-mail addresses for different departments (if you have them) and by having more than one person responsible for checking the generic e-mail inbox you are less likely to miss actioning an e-mail if the specific person that is responsible for addressing that facet of your organisations work is off sick or on leave. Someone else should pick up on the e-mail and at the very least contact the sender with a holding response to let them know their query is being handled. There is nothing worse than sending off an e-mail not knowing if it has been received. I would suggest that in addition to an automated acknowledgement you aim to have a personal acknowledgement at least within 48 hours. This might not be the answer to the question but it shows that you value the sender enough to update them .
Facebook messenger is also frequently used and actually tends in my opinion to get a better response as in the 21st century almost everyone seems to be on social media and ready to respond outside normal working hours. Obviously not the format for long questions or to send attachments but useful for nudging an organisation to check their e-mails.
The bottom line is that in this day and age of immediate gratification the charity or organisation that fails to respond promptly to a query or an offer of support often won't get a second chance . Even if the person reaching out to you doesn't get discouraged by your tardy reply their experience of your charity will have been marred even subconsciously and you risk losing opportunities in future.
So my suggestions would be:
1) Have one main point of e-mail contact that is monitored by a number of volunteers or members of staff. That way e-mails that come in will not be missed even if the best person to answer the query is on holiday/leave/sick. Someone else can step in and start a dialogue and either resolve the matter or keep the member of public updated until the right person for their query is available. Always have an initial acknowledgement that your organisation has received their e-mail and a policy of a real person responding within 48 hours.
2) Again if you have a Facebook page ensure that this is monitored by a number of people who may be volunteers or moderators who can acknowledge queries and ensure that the correct person to deal with the message is made aware and can respond in a timely manner.
Like it or not we live in an instant society where people are used to an almost 24 hour culture. This doesn't mean that your charity or organisation has to have staff available 24/7 but you do need to have procedures in place to ensure that anyone contacting you comes away from the experience feeling valued.
So without naming names here are my two recent experiences dealing with charities.
The first one was a local food bank. A friend had presented me with a Store Voucher and given the current climate I'm pretty sure that the local food bank would appreciate the assistance. Their website wasn't the best although luckily it had not only a 'contact us form' but an e-mail address I could use .
The problem was neither were valid with both e-mails bouncing back as undeliverable. There was a landline number which went straight through to an answer machine and apart from a physical address this was the only immediate means of contact so I left a message. Discounting a physical visit or a letter this charity had already lost 2 chances of being contacted and it would only have taken the answerphone to be full of messages for a potential donation or gift to be given to another charity and this particular one would never have known they lost out.
Luckily the next working day I received a call back in response to my message from a very helpful and proactive volunteer and the £150 was on its way. A reasonably positive response and I would be happy to support them in future.
The second one was to a reasonably large national veterinary charity with celebrity patronage. This charity had a much slicker website and the contact us page gave a variety of e-mail options along with links to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. I e-mailed them using the e-mail address that was the nearest match to my query regarding donating dog food and supplies and sat back. There was no automated acknowledgement and nothing to say that they had received my e-mail so I gave it a few days. Then a few more, and a few more. After almost 10 days I checked out their Facebook page and sent them a message. To their credit I got a reasonably prompt response asking me which e-mail address I had used.
The following day I received a personal message from a member of staff advising me that they had received my initial e-mail but that they had been waiting from a response within their organisation before getting back to me. Who knows how long I would have waited before they responded (if at all) had I not chased my e-mail up ? At the very least a holding e-mail or a quick phone call could have been made. In the end they said that they had more than enough donations and suggested I support someone else.
All in all quite a poor response to someone wanting to support their work especially as I had also mentioned in my original e-mail that in addition to wishing to donate £150 of pet food and supplies I would like to volunteer with my time and large van in collecting donations and assisting with transport as required yet this was not even mentioned. As a fellow animal welfare professional sadly this charity is now off my radar and I'll approach another charity with the offer.
Put yourselves in the position of someone trying to contact your charity and see how easy it is to contact yourself. Take a close look at the various methods and physically try them out. Fill in your contact us form and hit send - does it generate an auto acknowledgement ? Did you receive the query ? How many people regularly check your social media messages, e-mails, voicemail ? Why not use a mystery shopper type scenario and without telling anyone send in a random query and see how satisfactory the response is ( a bit difficult if you are the sole person responsible but that in itself highlights the need to have more than one person involved in your organisations media and customer/supporter response systems).
Remember in the current climate where every charity and organisation is struggling you only get one chance to make a first impression - don't blow it.
Feel free to contact me if you would like a review of your organisations communications.