Engaged clients, donors, volunteers, referral sources, advocates, staff members, and others are an important part of your nonprofit’s sustainability.  One indicator that someone is engaged is positive feedback, another is a complaint.

Before someone will take the time to complain, they must care about the service provider.  The uncaring quietly walk away.  The importance of the complaint might indicate a person’s level of caring.  Only those who care deeply will mention the small issues.  Almost anyone who is engaged will lodge a complaint about something significant.

It is important to remember that your nonprofit is well-run.  Therefore, it is very unlikely you will receive a truly significant complaint.  This is true even though some of the complaints you receive seem significant because of who made them, the circumstance, or their importance when compared with your average complaint.  From that, you can assume any complaint is from someone who is cares.

Every complaint deserves prompt attention.  Once it has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, it is time to step back and think carefully about the complainer.

Besides alerting you to something that deserves your nonprofit’s attention, they have told you that they are engaged.  Engagement in any form is valuable.  It is easier to turn a complaint into positive engagement than cultivate the unengaged.

How you convert the engagement into positive engagement depends on the person, their relationship with your nonprofit, and other variables.  Regardless of the details, taking the time to positively engaged them transforms the reduction in sustainability (complaint) into increased sustainability.  Whatever caused the complaint provided them with a story to tell.  When you create positive engagement from the negative, you ensure the story they tell will have a happy ending.

Next Step:

Invite complaints (they identify the engaged)

Resolve complaints quickly and to everyone’s satisfaction

Convert the negative engagement of the complaint into positive engagement

Frequently, we fail to capitalize on a complaint or see its full value.  When the complaint has been resolved, there is a new strength because one more vulnerability has been eliminated.  When negative engagement becomes positive engagement, your support system becomes stronger.  Most days, we hear more complaints than complements.  Therefore, we have more opportunities to build strength than we have to celebrate strength.  While it is more enjoyable to celebrate a strength, building strength makes your nonprofit more valuable to your community, clients, and supporters.  Building strength adds value, increases your nonprofit’s sustainability, and makes tomorrow’s complaints less likely to be significant.

Take It Further:

Use the resolved complaints as an indication of the growing strength, value, engagement with others, and sustainability of your nonprofit

Remind your board that the complaints of the past have helped to create today’s success therefore every complaint should be welcomed and encouraged

Use the changes in generosity and loyalty as indicators of the success of your conversion of negative engagement into positive engagement


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