Dawn Grover explains how introducing a complaints process not only improves supporter relations but leads to innovation in fundraising approaches.
At Breast Cancer Campaign (Campaign), feedback has always mattered but we only recently introduced a formal complaints process. Prior to that we rarely officially recorded feedback, we didn’t have a consistent way of managing the process or a standard approach to resolution of the complaints we received.
Without a formal complaints process we were unable to give our supporters, or any of our stakeholders, a channel to address the concerns that they had, which in turn meant that Campaign were unable to learn from their valuable feedback.
As an organisation, we agreed that feedback should be welcomed, and that input from the public would be valuable and would enable us to assess the impact of our fundraising, rather than it being viewed as just a criticism of what we have or have not done. We promise to fundraise in an honest, respectful and accountable way which is why we invite people to feedback to us if they feel we have not lived up to those standards. If a member of the public is still unhappy after they have been through our complaints process, we recommend that they contact the Fundraising Standards Board.
From the top
The trustees, who hold ultimate responsibility for the resolution of such matters, could not have been more supportive. They ensured that issues raised were discussed and resolved at the highest level, which sent out a positive message both internally and externally, and resolved any initial anxiety that existed.
The supporter care team took responsibility for developing an approach that would encourage feedback, taking into account input from across the organisation. Once agreed, we introduced an externally published complaints policy and a six-step internal process that ensured complaints were not only dealt with and logged, but that the appropriate action was taken.
Overall accountability for managing fundraising complaints sits with the director of supporter relations and fundraising. The supporter care team handle the day-to-day complaints and compliance policy for the entire charity. They track the progress of complaints and the subsequent resolution and ensure that complaints that require a specialist or functional response are referred back to the relevant department.
1. Log and record the complaint on database
2. Determine and take appropriate action
3. Monitor and track
4. Report analyse, evaluate and learn
5. Change and improve
In our experience, it is often better that the person involved in the activity that gave rise to the complaint, for example the fundraising campaign or piece of marketing literature, answers the questions posed to us. In this way, the most informed member of staff can deal with the complaint. They are supported by expert guidance in complaint handling and resolution from the supporter care manager, as they track complaints from receipt to response. This ensures that complaints are dealt with appropriately and promptly and that they are consistently recorded and reviewed to identify any trends or areas of concern.
Rather than just sitting back and waiting for the complaints to roll in, we use a combination of proactive and reactive channels and supporter touch points to stimulate dialogue. Because all supporter feedback is channelled through the supporter care team, we are now able to build a clear and informed picture about what our supporters think.
Feedback is shared across the whole organisation – from volunteers to the CEO – and with external partners and suppliers. From formal quarterly complaints reports to a brief email sharing some positive feedback instantly, it is essential that what we learn is shared.
Depending on the nature, severity and complexity of the complaint, some will be highlighted to the fundraising team concerned or escalated to the director of supporter relations and fundraising to ensure everyone is kept in the loop. We also believe it is very important to make the complainant aware of the importance we place on their feedback.
Campaign has a rolling recycling collections programme. Working in partnership with BCR Global Textiles (BCR), we deliver unaddressed recycling bags around the country for people to fill with unwanted clothing, textiles and bras.
Since the partnership began in 2008, BCR has raised over £113,000.00 for our vital, life-saving research. But unaddressed door drops often generate complaints because some members of the public object to receiving unsolicited mail through their door.
In one such instance, I listened to the complainant to gain a full understanding of the situation and then apologised for causing annoyance, explaining that it is never our intention. I then assured him that we are a professional, registered UK charity and are committed to finding a cure for breast cancer.
I went on to explain that BCR have permission from the local council to collect clothing and textiles on our behalf and that it is a country-wide campaign aimed at raising as much awareness and income as possible for our charity. As the conversation progressed, the caller began to understand the importance of both our work and of this type of activity but still wanted the bags to stop being delivered. I suggested contacting the local council to obtain a notice to stop all unsolicited mail. The fact that there was a solution offered made him feel empowered and somewhat placated.
After thanking the caller for taking the time to contact us, I explained that we appreciate all feedback and that it is recorded and monitored so that we can review our fundraising activities on an on-going basis. He thanked me for explaining things, for understanding and for being helpful. He put the phone down much better informed about the work of the charity and why we need his support. It was a positive conversation and one that we both learned from.
Although the caller was placated, complaints of this nature have increased. We discussed this and other such issues with the corporate fundraising manager who manages the relationship with BCR. As a result of on-going feedback, BCR took the decision to pilot and subsequently roll out a new online recycling scheme which we are now promoting widely to supporters and members of the public. We don’t plan to stop our door-to-door activity, but we now offer a more flexible supporter-driven service.
Without encouraging, listening to and monitoring complaints, this scheme may not have been introduced. It is vital that whenever a supporter or member of the public contacts us with any feedback – positive or negative, we listen, action and record to ensure that we maintain positive supporter relations, resolve all issues and improve where we can. We now view every supporter contact, including complaints, as a unique and valuable opportunity to understand and learn what the public thinks about us.
Dawn Grover is supporter care manager at Breast Cancer Campaign.
This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 9, September 2011