Take the Customer Service Challenge


pexels-photo-210647I am surprised by how often grantmakers see their role as funder, but not as a provider of services for which there are customers. True, the philanthropic customer is different than a business customer. As a foundation, you’re not selling a consumer good, but you are selling ideas, change, and a belief that communities can and should become better. And just as a private business needs customers to buy its products or services to keep its operation going, foundations need customers to buy into their missions and be willing to work as partners to achieve them.

Philanthropic customers include the nonprofits you serve, donors (especially if you’re a community foundation), community partners, and even other funders who might align their work with yours. Board members, political leaders, and other community members may be customers as well.

For each of these customer bases, it’s critical that you build relationships that are mutually beneficial and foster a sense of trust. For nonprofit customers, that could mean simplifying and streamlining your grantmaking experience. For donors, it could mean creating an easy-to-use interface or providing opportunities for education and engagement. For all customers, it means being crystal clear about your mission, vision and goals so that they can see how their work aligns with yours and why you value their contributions.

I could go into greater detail about potential customer relationships and how to build them, but instead I’ll share the following challenge. It was developed by my friend Noah Fleming, who knows a thing or two about customer service from his work as a business growth consultant and author of The Customer Loyalty Loop. I’ve adapted it here for philanthropy.

Customer Service Challenge for the Week: 

  1. Ask everyone on your team (staff, trustees, your spouse) to write down a list of all your foundation’s customers, then identify the top 3-5 most important elements of the customer’s experience. For example, what are the 3-5 points that define your relationship with a potential grantee? A current grantee? A donor? A board member? A community leader?
  2. Determine key expectations for each customer interaction. What can and should they expect from your team? Then ask your team to write down exactly how they are meeting or exceeding those expectations. (If your staff is larger, be sure to compare answers across different departments within your foundation. Program, accounting, grants management, communications and other staff may have very different perspectives.)
  3. Identify areas for improvement and make plans to tackle them.
  4. Create a way to measure customer satisfaction going forward to help you continually inform and improve your practice. This could be anything from an annual broad customer satisfaction survey to a quick poll at the end of an online grant proposal submission process.

And never forget – customer service is ultimately about the golden rule. Treat your customers the way you’d like to be treated if you were in their shoes. You’ll end up with a wealth of grantees, partners and supporters who are strong allies for achieving your mission.

© 2017 Kris Putnam-Walkerly. All rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.


Kris Putnam-Walkerly, MSW, has helped to transform the impact of top global philanthropies for over 18 years. A member of the Million Dollar Consultant Hall of Fame and named one of America’s Top 25 Philanthropy Speakers. Author of the award-winning book Confident Giving: Sage Advice for Funders, which was named one of “The 10 Best Corporate Social Responsibility Books.” For more ways to improve your giving, visit Putnam Consulting Group.


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Kris Putnam-Walkerly serves as a trusted advisor to foundation leaders and high-wealth donors across the globe. As an advisor, Kris transfers learning to leaders and their teams so they have the ability to build their own internal capacity to be successful in their work. Kris’s clients report immediate and dramatic improvement in both personal performance and philanthropic impact.

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September 27, 2017 – Philanthropy West Virginia Annual Conference 

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Out of Your Bubble and Into Your Community

October 19, 2017 – National Forum on Family Philanthropy 

Achieving Equity…How Exactly?

November 14, 2017 – Southeastern Council on Foundations’ Annual Conference, Trustees-Only Luncheon, Orlando, FL 

How Will Trustees Lead Into the Future?

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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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