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Secret Shopping: Taking Your Organization for a Test Drive

By Lynne Wester

Many of you know I’m a big fan of giving online and testing the donor experience at your organization when it comes to your online giving site. Recently, I’ve been thinking about those donors that want a more personal touch, those that phone your organization looking for help with their giving. I say that as I’m on what is now a 22 minute hold with my Bank… lol

When is the last time you had someone call your main number and say to the operator or person answering the phone, “I’d like to make a gift.”? Well, if you haven’t done that recently, you might be in for a surprise and an opportunity. I’ve been doing this with clients lately and the results have been shocking. I’ve been transferred, sent to voicemail, had people stammer for an answer and connect me with the wrong person and spent precious minutes waiting for answers. Only rarely have I been thanked immediately. Most people are just stunned I actually want to give them money.

In large organizations like Universities, is fundraising an option from your automated message or phone tree? Do your switchboard operators know where to send potential donors? If I call the Dean’s office, where will they send me? It might be time to obtain some bribery like chocolate or cookies and go train those first responders in the donor experience. Answers like, “you could just give online” or “wait, you want to do this now over the phone?” are opportunities for training. Your goal here is not only should the person answering the phone know where to send the donor but also how to connect them properly or at least start the conversation with a “thank you”. Also transfer and hold etiquette are important. You don’t just blind transfer a donor, you say, thank you so much I’m going to connect you with XXXX who can better help you, her direct number is XXX XXXX should you get disconnected. Then when you connect you introduce the donor by name and then connect the call, not just hit the extension and forward away!

Of course, we want donors to use the convenient phone number we place on all of our communications, but what happens when they don’t? Or what happens when they do and everyone is out on vacation like for most of our organizations last week? Have you thought about these coverages? A good time to think about them is not only now but also at the end of the calendar year. Who is dedicated to answering the phone when no one is around? If you’re going to have a departmental holiday celebration, have you trained the intern you left behind on the phones? You have an opportunity!

I think my point here is that we need to carefully consider the donor experience and test it regularly. Donors have a variety of preferences when reaching us and we should be as prepared as possible to help them be generous. And remember, the next time you pick up the phone, it could be the donor guru checking in on you!



Lynne Wester is the principal and founder of Donor Relations Guru and the DRG Group. She is one of the most sought-after fundraising speakers in the world and has presented at regional, national, and international conferences of over 4,000.

Lynne created the DRG website to be used as a unique industry tool filled with resources, samples and thought leadership on donor relations and fundraising. She is regularly featured in publications such as the Washington Post, Chronicle of Philanthropy, and CASE Currents and has authored three books of her own on a myriad of industry topics.


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