I just finished a two-hour presentation to a non-profit organization about their donor study. We learned some very surprising things about their donors, along with confirming the expected in a few situations. At the end of the presentation, while discussing the next steps, the head of the organization said the following (I’m paraphrasing):

“We need to go slide-by-slide through this and figure out how each one of these findings affects us. We need to figure out how we can understand our donors better, reach out to them more effectively, serve them better, enhance their experience with us, meet them where they are, and minister to them more completely.”

I was stunned.

We had just told them all sorts of things about their donors (essentially, the equivalent of their customers). In all of the things the CEO wanted to accomplish and discuss how to improve, not once did he mention that they need to figure out how to raise more money from these individuals.

Raising funds from people is the lifeblood of any donor-supported organization, just like getting customers to make purchases is the lifeblood of any for-profit company. And yet here was the CEO of a multi-million-dollar organization, discussing how to serve his “customers” better rather than how to get more money out of them. Focusing on his “customers” rather than on his “profits.”

I’ve worked with scores of for-profit companies and non-profit organizations over the last 23 years. What does it say about corporate America that I was so completely surprised by where he placed his focus? (Or, for that matter, about the fact that the CEO wanted to discuss in-depth how to implement the research – but that’s a subject for another post.)

Lest you think he’s just a noble-hearted do-gooder, this particular CEO is an experienced, savvy businessman. He’s smart enough to know that a customer’s superlative experience with an organization goes a long way toward building a relationship with that organization, and those relationships go a long way toward bringing in more funds. But at the same time, he genuinely cares about his constituents and wants to do whatever he can to help them and be there for them. What a great combination. Maybe that’s one reason the organization has quintupled in size during the last half decade.

As people who are in the business of serving customers, and as people who have clients who are in the business of serving customers, what can we learn from this CEO?


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