We are barreling toward Black Friday and the heralding of all things Christmas and Holidays, which means one thing: we have expectation management problems.

Now, this article isn’t about keeping up with the Jones’ and parents buying their kiddos an iPhone when they turn 9 (I’m looking at you, Sharon!) – this is about how consumer experiences among our advancement peers set a VERY HIGH bar for advancement services to attain.

Consider this conversation from last week: an esteemed fundraising operations colleague told me that his major giving counterpart felt like their university’s advancement efforts were behind the ‘one-click world’ we live in. And, sadly, that team member was correct. However, it’s not for a lack of trying– it’s for a lack of resources. This team has terrific strategic information management practices in place and some pretty slick technology and reporting supporting its efforts. But, in the typical team member’s eyes, it’s not enough.


Expectation Management

This is where expectation management comes in. I’ve often referred to this as the iPhone Problem. We all have a computer in our pocket that can access the entirety of human knowledge and it also allows us to order new shoes in just one click. That experience is amazing (and it should be a bar we reference), but the reality is that expectation isn’t a fair one– especially for those of us in the nonprofit sector. I’ve written in detail on how little our industry gets to spend on technology, and on top of that, we’re also often third (or fourth) in line on our campuses as core mission functions (student for universities, patient experiences in healthcare, etc.) get a larger share of attention and budget.

The iPhone Problem

Speaking of the iPhone Problem- this image is already out of date, but it proves the point that expectation management is about persuading folks to get the job done without the shiny, new resources.


Redirect Expectations to Achievable Outcomes

So, odds are that you can’t compete with Amazon, Apple, or Google this Christmas, but you can establish peer set and peer-delivered experiences to emulate. We all know that S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, Time-based) goals drive better outcomes, so don’t allow the (nearly) unattainable one-click goals to paralyze you. Instead, start with the following ideas:

  • Can you personalize your donors’ experiences more? Who does it better in your conference or peer set?
  • Can you speed processing and thank donors (and deposit their checks) more efficiently?
  • Who has built reporting and analytics that betters serves their fundraisers than your environment serves your staff? What could you do to improve data output to drive more results?
  • Who has established an innovative user experience application for volunteers, class agents, etc. and can you learn from that? This may be something like a third party tool (I’m a fan of EverTrue and others are catching up) or perhaps you can design and build an app (which is a 4-figure budget cost these days).
  • Finally, can you negotiate expectations with your users? Start with a pact to get the data right, including making sure data in team members’ iPhones can access the central database. In doing so, you can prioritize some solutions that users really want as you work on day-to-day improvements and approved road map pieces.

Of course, you should still learn from innovations in all sorts of environments. Read journals from uncommon fields. Look at case studies from fundraising shops out of your industry. Build analytics and process improvement protocols into your work. And, among all of these things, remind your colleagues that your mission-driven efforts shoot for the stars to reach the moon. And, by way of numeric comparison to prove the point: the moon is ‘only’ 238,900 miles away while the sun (our nearest star, to be literal) is 93,000,000 miles away (which is about the ratio of our budgets and staffing to Amazon’s!).

Wondering how your nonprofit can use expectation management to your advantage and improve the consumer experience- even with limited resources? We can help!


Chris is President of Strategic Services at Zuri Group. His areas of expertise include fundraising strategy and systems, staff and resource management, database management, business intelligence and data reporting, database conversion projects, gift and data processing, and technology needs.

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