Customer Service Expectations from the Horse’s Mouth – A guest blog by Jolene Retallick!


I’m sure you’d agree that it would be unoriginal if I wrote about the importance of customer service in fundraising. Lots of great bloggers have already done that very convincingly; there’s no need for me to go there too.

But the question that interests me is what exactly is good customer service?

To delight a donor is wonderful, and in fact is one of my favourite things to do, but I firmly believe that the day-to-day interactions are important too. How soon do people expect a thank you letter? How soon should we reply to e-mails and return phone calls? What makes an interaction with a supporter a good one?

Without knowing what the expectations are it’s impossible to know if they are being met. And when you are part of a very small supporter care team (at the charity I work for it’s just me and about 50% of our Fundraising Assistant) and have to juggle your time to include both short-term customer service needs and longer-term planning, more questions arise:

  • Should I spend a few hours concentrating on developing a new way to engage our donors or interrupt myself to check our enquiries inbox?
  • Should I spend time making an e-mail personal and friendly or save time by setting up templates?

And so on…

Naturally, everyone has different expectations. What one person says is an acceptable queue, another walks away from in disgust. If I was a major donor fundraiser I would get to know the expectations of everyone individually but as I’m not, using an average seems like the best way forward.

Realising that I shouldn’t rely on my judgment alone and that I needed data instead, I turned to our ‘Opinion Team’. Each month this group of supporters answers a short questionnaire from a different part of the charity and in July I took the opportunity to ask about customer service.

99 people replied to tell us about their customer service expectations; here’s what I found out…

(For the sake of brevity, I’ve chosen just four questions to write about. All the results come first and you’ll find my thoughts below)


  • Only 4% of supporters expect a thank you letter to be sent ‘The day we receive your donation’ or ‘the day after we receive your donation’.
  • The most popular answer, at 36%, was ‘within a week of receiving your donation’.

This surprised me because there’s research that says that donors who receive a thank you letter within 48 hours of their donation are more likely to donate again. Could the 48 hour stats show that people are more likely to donate again if their expectations are exceeded rather than just met? If so, that’s a huge opportunity!

(I’d love to also write about the 33% of people who chose ‘I wouldn’t want a thank you letter at all’ but that will have to wait until another time)

If you sent an e-mail about these topics, how quickly would you expect a response?  
Answer Options Within an hour or two Within a day Within two days Within a week Longer than a week Don’t know Median
You’re having a problem making a donation 26% 37% 25% 11% 0% 0% Within a day
You would like info about fundraising 2% 24% 35% 36% 2% 1% Within two days
You would like more info about our projects 0% 19% 29% 46% 5% 1% Within a week
You’ve changed your address 5% 27% 21% 37% 8% 2% Within two days

  • When an e-mail is about a donation problem, on average people want a reply ‘within a day’ but a significant number (26%) said ‘within an hour or two’.
  • For other types of enquiries a longer wait is acceptable.

chart 2

  • 14% would expect a response by midday of the following day.
  • Another 50% would expect a response by the end of the following day

How important are the following to you in a response to an enquiry?  
Answer Options Very important Quite important Neither important or unimportant Unimportant Not at all important Don’t know Median
A prompt response 24% 70% 6% 0% 1% 0% Quite
A helpful /effective response 83% 16% 1% 0% 0% 0% Very
A friendly response 54% 38% 8% 0% 0% 0% Very
A personal response 30% 43% 19% 4% 4% 0% Quite
Receiving extra info 10% 49% 35% 3% 3% 0% Quite
  • From most to least important:
    • A helpful response
    • A friendly response
    • A prompt response
    • A personal response
    • Receiving extra information

If you’re still with me after that flurry of graphs, what did you think?

Of all the research out there, it’s not the most enthralling (don’t worry – I get that!) but I did find answers to the questions I asked at the beginning of this blog and discovered that while we do lots to meet our supporter’s expectations (we’re pretty good at answering e-mails within a day), there’s things that we’re not yet getting right (we’re letting down the 26% of supporters who want help with a donation problem within 1 – 2 hours)

This is good! Now I know what gaps I have to fill. And while it might be difficult, knowing that I’m making changes based on data rather than assumptions will make it easier.

What stood out to you? Have you identified any gaps in your customer service?

I also asked questions about prioritisation. How should I balance different tasks and use my limited time in the most effective way?

Using the data above, those delicate decisions are easier to make.

  • Should I spend a few hours concentrating on developing a new way to engage our donors or interrupt myself to check our enquiries inbox?

Here I have to give myself an answer that I don’t really want. To meet the expectations of 26% of our supporters, I have to make sure we check regularly for new enquiries. But there’s a distinction to make – only the ones related to donation problems need an immediate response, the rest can be left for later. Multi-tasking isn’t always advisable but in this case it looks necessary.

  • Should I spend time making an e-mail personal or can I save time by setting up templates?

As a personal response is ranked fourth out of five but is still ‘important’ or ‘quite important’ to 73% of supporters, I’ll keep doing that for now. But I’ll bear in mind that it’s more important for it to be helpful, friendly and prompt.

Obviously, there’s far more that can be deduced from these results but the observations I’ve made, if a little mundane on the surface, feel like the most important to me right now. I’ll leave you to take a look and answer the questions that are important to you. What are your prioritisation dilemmas? Does this data help you find the answers?

In my opinion, if you know that you’re usually pretty good at customer service, it’s easy to take it for granted. By conducting this questionnaire I’ve discovered what supporters really expect and learnt that I don’t always get it right. In the coming weeks and months, I will improve our customer service armed with data rather than assumption. And despite the difficulty of prioritisation, I will definitely give it a go. Having asked supporters for their opinions I won’t dismiss them now as too demanding. I will just have to engage my brain, tweak some processes and find new ways to ensure we meet and exceed our supporters’ expectations.

What do you think?

Would your supporters feel the same as ours? I would love to hear from anyone who has any thoughts about customer service or the challenges faced by a small donor care team.

P.S. You might have noticed that I forgot to ask the obvious ‘when’ question: ‘If you contact us via Facebook or Twitter, how soon would you expect a reply?’ Sorry about that. Luckily, The Social Habit didn’t forget:


About Jolene 


Jolene Retallick is a Supporter Relations Manager and loves to make donors happy. She can be found lurking on Twitter @JoleneRetallick

3 thoughts on “Customer Service Expectations from the Horse’s Mouth – A guest blog by Jolene Retallick!

  1. Thank you for sharing your results. I found this so illuminating and can imagine my organization’s donors answering along the same lines. My take-away – send out those official acknowledgement letters sooner – although I do send a handwritten note or email the same day as the donation arrives (which one I send depends on the donation amount). So glad I found your blog as it short and sweet and there’s always something to think about or do.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Kathryn,

    Thank you for you kind comment. I’m glad you found the blog interesting and that you can make use of the results.

    We find that we can get letters out pretty quickly until we do an appeal and then it all gets a little overwhelming!


    Liked by 1 person

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