Sup­port­er care – it’s the best invest­ment you can make in fundraising

Ralph Welch didn’t expect his chance encounter with a Women’s Super League cus­tomer ser­vice team to make him think much about fundrais­ing. But an unex­pect­ed response after a recent pur­chase made him reflect on char­i­ties and sup­port­er care. Read on to find out more and learn a few top tips.

Written by
Ralph Welch
September 14, 2023
Ralph’s daughter (right), pictured with her favourite Women’s Super League football player, Mille Bright.

In March, I received a letter from the customer service department of a Premier League football club. In some respects, it was the latest in a long chain of communications that followed the build-up to Christmas and beyond. And in others, it was entirely unexpected.

I’ll spare you the long story, as my email inbox is still recovering from the exertion of the whole episode. Essentially, thanks to the success of the Lionesses, my daughter had developed an adulation for one particular player, Millie Bright. She asked for a club football shirt with Millie’s name and number on it. 

So far, so good.  

And once I’d dried away the tears from seeing the eye-watering prices of a child’s Premier League football kit, I placed an order. Christmas was seven weeks away. Even allowing for strike action, it was plenty of time. I congratulated myself on being so well-prepared. 

And then it all went wrong.  

The shirt, being shipped from overseas, went missing – twice. According to the tracking system, it embarked on the sort of global tour that made Phileas Fogg a household name. The only place it didn’t appear… was on my doorstep. 

An intensive period of email exchanges resulted in many sincere apologies – from several different customer services staff – but sadly no Christmas present. Eventually, it arrived in late January. The last customer service assistant I spoke to actually checked in with me to ensure that the late arrival was up to scratch. It was fine. I told her that my daughter loved it and was fully intending to wear the shirt, underneath several necessary layers of winter clothing, to a fixture we were attending in February. 

The football shirt Ralph ordered for his daughter.

She did indeed wear it to the game. And then, out of the blue, a week later a parcel arrived with her name on it. Inside was a matchday programme for the game we attended. Except this programme included a signed message from her favourite player. The customer service assistant had also included a handwritten compliments slip wishing my daughter well and saying how grateful they were for supporting the Women’s Super League (WSL) revolution. 

My daughter was overjoyed. I was utterly shocked. 

You see, I fully expected to never hear from that customer service team again. I assumed that I was just another enquiry number. Another complaint assigned to one of the many members of their team. And I expected to be treated as such. My expectations of private sector brands, particularly those as enormous as a Premier League franchise, are fairly low. And traditionally, they’ve struggled to meet that meagre threshold. 

So, what does this have to do with fundraising, supporter care, budgets and financial years? And what can this one diligent member of staff at a Premier League powerhouse teach us fundraisers? 

1.     Every single interaction with your donor matters 

Whether it is a complaint, a change of address, or a standard enquiry. One-to-one interactions with donors can be few and far between. They may support you for many, many years – but they may only contact you directly on one or two occasions during this time.  

Your responses to them must never be formulaic. They must never be robotic. And they should always make the supporter feel important. 

2.     Exceed expectations at every opportunity 

As I said above, I was fully prepared for no further interaction with the customer services team. I know myself the pressure people are under, particularly during busy periods, to get issues resolved and off the log sheet. 

Most of us can spot cut-and-paste wording a mile off. It takes milliseconds to scan an email and see if there is even the merest hint of humanity. Frequently, there isn’t. So, when you get a handwritten note like my daughter did, it stands out. 

That’s not to say that as a sector we should send every donor a handwritten note. Sometimes that’s the right choice, but other times it just isn’t possible. But showing some sort of humanity will go a long way. People still warm to people. And personal messages. 

The next time someone informs you of their new address, wish them well. And if you know the area, say something about it. Treat it as a conversation rather than administration. Trust me, you’ll stand out from the crowd. 

3.     Show impact every chance you get 

The note – thanking her for being part of the WSL movement – made my daughter feel part of something. Now she talks about the WSL as an entity rather than just the players or the clubs. She has a commitment to it because she feels valued. 

We can do the same in every single interaction we have with our supporters. We should never waste an opportunity to show them what they’ve achieved. Share successes and stories. Show them the difference they’ve made to the lives of others. You might never have the chance to do so directly again. 

So, when you’re looking at your fundraising communications, keeping an eye on budgets, reviewing your forecasts, and balancing the risk vs reward of acquisition activity, remember there’s an investment you can make in your existing supporters that they will all appreciate: time. It’s worth more than you realise.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just last year, an article by Charity Digital stated, ‘Blackbaud’s Supporter Experience Report 2022 revealed that 93 per cent of charities considered supporter experience to be important to them, while two thirds said they made it a priority’. So, if you’re looking to improve the supporter experience of your donors, try some of Ralph tips and take a look at Blackbaud’s report by clicking the hyperlink above. 

IMAGES: © All images courtesy of Ralph Welch  

About the author: Ralph Welch

Ralph Welch (he/him) has been leading fundraising and communications teams for over 20 years at ChildLine, NSPCC and Crisis UK. He currently works at Dogs Trust and talks about supporters… a lot.

Related case studies or articles

Who Gives a Crap: supporter experience and email journey

At the supporter experience edition of I Wish I’d Thought Of That, Lianne Howard-Dace showed fundraisers what we can all learn from the marvellous communications by toilet paper brand Who Gives a Crap.

Read more

Asking your donors the right way – six tips to build relationships and giving

Fundraisers, we all know it can be hard to make the ask. Whether you need to speak to your donor in person or on paper, it’s not easy to ask for the donations that your organisation and your beneficiaries need. In this article, copywriter and consultant George Crankovic shares six useful tips to help you make that all-important request. 

Read more

How we do it – crafting SOFII’s special thank you letters

At SOFII, we believe that great donor care is important. But it can be difficult to get right. So, while we aren’t perfect, we strive to try our best and practice what we preach. SOFII is a tiny charity, and we know the challenges that can crop up when you’re low on resource and short on time. This article gives you a little insight into how we thank our own donors.

Read more