Building an effective supporter services function
For far too long, supporter services teams were considered to be a mere ‘back office’ function, perhaps an extension of the individual giving department, and consigned to processing and administration. But a major transformation of that outdated image has been underway, as organizations prioritize supporter engagement and adopt a greater supporter centric approach. Increasingly, supporter services teams are positioned at the very centre of the organization, serving all fundraising disciplines, and are recognized as the true guardians of stewardship with a critical role to play in supporter, engagement, development and retention.
So what are the top tips for building an effective supporter services function? Here are some ideas:
- Recruit the right people
It’s all about attitude. Recruiting staff who have a positive, ‘can-do’ attitude will have a hugely beneficial impact on the team’s effectiveness. Skills and experience can be developed but attitude, like culture, is hard to change. Charities now use a range of recruitment tools such as telephone interviews, assessment centres and online psychometric testing to make sure they recruit people with the right attitude, and use schemes such as apprenticeships and internships to observe and develop potential candidates. Once on board, good employee engagement practices will help to ensure that your team remains focused and motivated.
- Build a culture of stewardship
Supporter services are now an integral part of the holistic supporter journey and therefore must lead by example and continually deliver excellent standards of service, both internally and externally. Do your supporter services staff relish keeping their promises and strive to do what they say they are going to do? If not, what are the barriers that are preventing them from doing so? How empowered and equipped is your team to deliver first touch resolution and bespoke stewardship within a centralised model with uniform processes? Charities need to ensure that their commitment to customer care really lives and breathes, which means designing a strong stewardship process, ensuring that supporters can take control of their own journey with the charity, and that feedback and insights from the supporter services team are incorporated into the ongoing development of the supporter experience.
- Raise the profile of supporter services internally
Take every opportunity to shout about what you do in supporter services. Never tire of demonstrating the impact of the team’s work and use financial and non-financial key performance indicators to illustrate how supporter services is delivering the charity’s vision and mission. Using a network of champions to promote understanding about what the supporter services team does, and communicate supporter services’ successes through a variety of methods, language and tone is a good way to raise their profile across the organization. Individual, bespoke communication with key stakeholders is invaluable to promote what you want to achieve and to get them on side. For each team that you work with, think about what their drivers are and what impacts on their performance so that you can tailor messages accordingly.
- Use technology to compliment excellent supporter care
Charities are building their use of commercial customer service technology, such as Live Chat and personalized SMS to improve and enhance their real time supporter engagement, give deeper and more enriched feedback and insights into supporter experience, and make their response more immediate, using technology that is part of the supporters’ everyday lives. Technology can support remote working, making extended opening hours possible, and a range of software, such as telephone call recording, can monitor quality and drive up standards of service through on the job training and continual process improvement.
- Make the right supplier decisions
Most supporter services teams continue to use a mix of in-house activity and outsourcing to deliver the necessary range of functions. However, charities increasingly consider the value added and qualitative dimension to any assessment of what delivery model is best for them and, as a consequence, purely cost based decisions are becoming rarer. Advice for first time users of logistics services such as contact centres or fulfilment houses is to complete a detailed due diligence on each provider considered. You can never be too careful to check out the claims of the company and seek out references in order to make sure that it is an operation that shares your values. It’s very similar to trying to choose the best employee—taking extra time up front to make sure the best decision is made will pay dividends in the long run and avoid any potential pitfalls by having to switch providers or bring the entire process back in-house. And regular training of your suppliers about your organization’s value, aims and objectives and tone of voice is imperative to enable them to operate an effective extension of your service.
The role of supporter services has shifted dramatically over the last five years and the function has moved from being considered a back office, processing function, focused primarily on individual giving, to a central and front line, supporter facing operation, spanning all of fundraising. It’s an exciting time to be involved in supporter services, to be acknowledged as playing an integral part of the holistic supporter journey, providing excellent customer care to engage and retain supporters.
Beccy Murrell is Senior Consultant with THINK Consulting Solutions and an expert in fundraising operations and volunteer-led fundraising. Click here to meet her.