Angry Donors Calling? Let’s Make Lemonade!

nonprofit fundraising

Let’s face it: an angry donor is probably a nonprofit’s worst nightmare. Even those hard-working organizations with the absolute best of intentions can occasionally make a slip-up that can lead to a long, uncomfortable phone call or meeting.

Have you ever heard the phrase “the customer is always right“? I believe this definitely applies in these situations, even if you believe (or know) that the donor is the one in the wrong.

The bottom line is that these people have invested money into your organization, and it’s in your best interest to make them happy.


Calming Down a Disgruntled Donor

First and foremost, I think the absolute best way to calm down an angry donor is to let them yell at you in person or over the phone. Either way, the key is to take the time to truly listen. Hands down, if done correctly, they will become donors for life.

According to the authors of “Being Buddha at Work,” Franz Metcalf and B.J. Gallagher, here are some additional steps organizations can take to calm an angry individual down, attempt to solve the issue and “make some lemonade”:

  • Always be compassionate. Remember, the donor is frustrated, upset, and possibly disappointed. Do not use anger to deal with anger. Instead, try compassion.
  • Listen very carefully to what the donor is sharing with you.
  • Take notes, and explain that you want to make sure you have all of the details correct.
  • Thank the donor for bringing the problem to your attention.
  • Be upfront, stressing what you can do (not what you cannot do). Be clear about what he or she can expect and when.
  • Recruit help from others, such as board members, if you need it.
  • Continue to follow up. Keep your commitments, and update the donor should anything change moving forward.

At the end of the day, while donor satisfaction is vital for maintaining and growing your organization’s support system, you can’t necessarily do everything that each and every donor expects.

However, by learning how to listen – with compassion ­– and communicate with donors in a way that respects their concerns while sticking with your nonprofit’s mission, you can address their complaints and remain professional in an uncomfortable situation.


On average, new IPM clients see a 34.8% increase in direct mail fundraising acquisition response rates within the first year of working with us. Want to learn more?

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