Tuesday, 24 March 2015

What you get if you mix a Direct Debit error, an apology letter and a conversation with a donor?

I caught up with a friend the other day, who, knowing what I do always has an opinion.  In fact he has an opinion on what I do because he is a supporter of charity - so his opinion comes from his experience and attitude to what the sector does from his experience.  

So, this was interesting.  He had just received a letter from a charity to which several months earlier he had upgraded his Direct Debit.  The letter,  detailed the fact that though he kindly increased his gift from £10 to £20 per month, that the previous direct debit had not been cancelled and thus the charity had been taking both amounts for the last 7 months.  They owed him £70.00.

As he handed me the letter he said 'If I was them, I wouldn't have done it like that.'  

So, I read on. The charity explained the error and advised that £70 had been credited into his account. Nothing too contentious and unusual there I thought.

'What wouldn't you have done?' I quizzed, 'given back the money?'.  

'Of course I would have given back the money, but I would have used the letter to highlight the mistake, check the account details were still active as a tactic (though of course they are), and said if we don't here back in xx days, we will refund the money into your account.' Was his reply.

Interesting I said, how would you have felt on the receiving end of such a letter?

'Fine, I didn't notice the £70 had been taken - so I would have probably contacted them and told them to keep the money.  Like maybe 1-2% of other people may have done.'

Me: 'You can still make the donation.'

Friend: 'No, that would require me to write a cheque or give my credit card details - giving to charity is actually quite hard and time consuming - so no, now I have the money back it would be a hassle to give it again.'

Now, as you read this, it might have caused you to cast your mind back to when there have been such mistakes in your own programmes.  What did you do?  What would you do? 

Yes, a % of those people, like my friend, could have said don't worry just keep the money - would those that received that letter with an extra stage felt aggrieved that the money wasn't automatically credited?  We could assume yes, but would they?

I am sharing this because for me a few things stood out:

  • It would appear that in the face of errors and mistakes and to be honest quite a bad one in this instance, supporters can be quite relaxed and understanding about them. This is not to suggest that when mistakes happen we shouldn't treat them seriously, but there is a comfort to be had from the idea that people are quite understanding if the issue is communicated in the right way.
  • Though I was personally not at all surprised by the approach the charity took in dealing with the error in this case - my friend genuinely thought this was a lost opportunity for income generation and would have been perfectly happy with an opportunity to decide whether he wanted his money back.  Do we too frequently second guess our supporters? 
  • My friend may be unique in this but his point about giving to charity being difficult really stood out for me (another post for another time).  But are we doing enough to break down the barriers to giving - the emotional and the physical ones?  
As he put the letter away, I thanked him - I love the fact that someone wholly unrelated to the charity or not-for-profit sector has such a strong opinion - which is ultimately coming from a very committed charity giver perspective. Even more reason to harness that feedback and more importantly seek it out. 

Thanks as ever for stopping by.