Improve Your Philanthropic “Customer Experience”


Web cubeI recently stayed at the Charles Hotel near Harvard Square, and was delighted to see the “Web Cube” on my hallway on my way to my room. It’s essentially a large closet with a desk, computer, printer and free internet access, available to all guests on the floor.  I assume each floor has them.  What a brilliant improvement to an existing valuable resource: hotel business centers.

We’ve all used hotel business centers and have encountered similar problems: finding them, using them during limited business hours, and planning our time so that we don’t have to go back and forth from our room to the business center and back.  This web cube takes the customer experience to a new level. If you are busy working in your hotel room and want to print something so that you can go back to your room to use it, just walk a few yards down your hallway. If you are under deadline and working late at night or waking up, as I often do, at 3:00 am with the urge to finish that project, you could probably use the Web Cube in your pajamas!

What was crystal clear to me was that the Charles Hotel understood that I was in Boston to do more than sleep. While a bed was my most basic need, I could tell that the staff at this hotel thought farther about what their guests might be trying to accomplish and how they could support that as part of the hotel experience.

This makes me think about what we as philanthropists can do to improve the service and value we provide. What can we do to better understand and support what our grantees are trying to accomplish, and how could we improve our services to make them, and ourselves, more effective?

Think about one thing you or your foundation offers that others find valuable. This could be in-person workshops for grantees to improve board effectiveness or evaluate impact, “meet the grantmaker” sessions you hold for nonprofits to meet your program officers, technical assistance you provide to grantees, or your super-duper new online application process.

Now brainstorm ways that you could make this:

  • Easier to use
  • Accessible to more people
  • Available 24 hours a day
  • More valuable

If you pay consultants to provide technical assistance available to certain grantees, how about paying for “consultants on call” where consultants hold virtual “office hours” and are available to advise the broader nonprofit community?

If you fill the room at your quarterly nonprofit board trainings, why not video or audio record the sessions to make them available as downloadable podcasts or webinars? Upload them to the Foundation Center’s Issue Lab and they are instantly available to thousands of libraries worldwide.

If your online grant application and management system alerts grantseekers when the application has been received, decisions have been made, and reports are due, could you add features that show the applicant where it is in the review process at any given time (program officer review, peer review process, board vote, etc.) so that nonprofits don’t feel their proposal went into a black hole? While you’re at it, share tips on effective nonprofit management, and links to upcoming professional development opportunities.

All of these ideas may well require a small additional investment of time or funds on your part. But think of how your investment will pay off in terms of grantee productivity or new learning. No doubt, the powers that be at the Charles Hotel did some sort of cost/benefit analysis before taking away precious floor space to devote to the web cube. Their investment is paying off in terms of happier, more productive customers — and yours will as well.

As for me, the next time I’m in Boston, I’m staying at the Charles!


Kris Putnam-Walkerly is a philanthropy expert and consultant. If you found this blog post useful, please subscribe. On Twitter? Follow me @Philanthropy411.

Posted by Kris Putnam-Walkerly © Kris Putnam-Walkerly and Philanthropy411, 2014.


Kris is a sought after philanthropy advisor, expert and award-winning author. She has helped over 90 foundations and philanthropists strategically allocate and assess over half a billion dollars in grants and gifts.

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