Why Consistent Quality is Key to Your Philanthropic Relationships
On a recent trip to Mexico City, I was delighted to find a Starbucks right next door to my hotel. For a moment, I felt sort of guilty that I was being an imperialist coffee drinker and that I should go find an amazing Mexican coffee experience to try. But a quick gut check proved the opposite: I was jet lagged from an ill-advised red eye flight
from San Francisco, and my priority was caffeine in the form of coffee that I could depend on. I like Starbucks’ Pikes Place blend and I needed the comfort and reliability of its consistent quality.
A few weeks later, I was walking in Palo Alto to -- you guessed it -- a Starbucks. I walked past an independent bakery and cafe. “I should go there and support a local business,” I thought. But then I thought of all the times I've done that and tossed the coffee because I didn't like the taste. I kept walking.
Now many of you might complain that Starbucks is the bane of successful local coffee shops, or that
the quality isn't as good as some organic single malt variety from Ethiopia. It’s not that I don’t understand those points. And I'm all for trying new things (honestly!). But when I need to focus, keep moving, find a reliable ally, and wrap my hand around a touchstone of stability, I want the consistent quality that my Starbucks experience gives me.
The branding gurus at Starbucks and other companies know this. The relationships we build with the products and services we return to time after time aren’t built on haphazard or uneven experiences — they are built on consistent quality. How I define quality, in coffee or other things, may be different from the way you define it, but I guarantee you love your own favorite coffee (or other beverage) for exactly the same reason: you consistently
experience the quality you value.
Companies understand that their customers have choices and will gravitate toward consistent quality. What if funders understood that as well? Grantees are just as vital to us as customers are to companies. What if we provided consistent quality to our grantee partners in a way that built value, loyalty and trust? If we did, we’d have grantee partners who were more willing to have honest conversations with us, go the extra mile with us, and even occasionally walk through fire with us when needed.
So how can Funders demonstrate consistent quality? It’s actually not that
hard. Here are some simple ways – some of which you could implement immediately.
Always return emails and voicemails in a timely fashion. I know of several funders who have written policies saying they will do this, but not all of them follow through. Respectful customer service is always valued, no matter who your “customer” is.
Provide clear and consistent funding guidelines. Constantly changing or rewording guidelines to keep them “fresh” may seem like a good idea, but in reality it changes to how grantees apply for funds should only come when grantees express a
need for greater clarity or when your grantmaking process or goals have been significantly changed. If the recipe is working, don’t change it without good reason.
Make funding decisions based on clear priorities and demonstrated results. I’ve seen countless funders derailed in their funding decisions because of politics, or a belief that they should fund “everyone,” or pet interests of board members. When this happens, grantees and partners can quickly lose faith in your consistency - with good reason.
Always walk your talk. How many funders call for collaboration, innovation or equity among their grantees without turning the mirror on themselves? If you want grantees to embrace these practices, start with yourself first. Be clear and consistent about what these terms mean to you and the
actions you’ll take to embody them. That not only will provide consistency for grantees, but for your staff and board as well.
Be transparent. Be open about your funding priorities, decision-making processes and timelines, values, and reasons why you choose to pass on some grants and not others. After all, if you feel an organization is keeping information from you, how much can you really trust them? (True, this is not something all strong corporate brands do, but I think we should hold ourselves to a higher standard, don’t you?)
As funders, we’re not selling coffee or some other consumer good, but we are selling hope, belief, capacity and the concept that we can and should make the
world a better place. If that’s not a calling worthy of consistent quality, then what is? Providing consistent quality in our work gives is lasting value, meaning, and dare I say – marketability. And that’s a good thing. After all, the more fans we win for philanthropy, the better.