Charities Need to Learn About Lean

Like a lot of people, I go through an end-of-year ritual of sending donations to a variety of charities I support. The end of the year serves as a deadline that encourages me to make the donations so I can deduct them when I file my income taxes.

In going through that ritual this year, I came to the conclusion that there’s a lot of waste in how charities solicit donations – and at least some of that waste could be eliminated by taking a lean approach.

The waste is primarily in the form of the junk mail the charities send me. Once I’ve donated to a charity, over the next year I might receive more than a dozen letters (some multi-page), brochures and “gifts” to get me to donate again. And that doesn’t include the emails.

(Also, some of those “gifts” are really stuck in old ways of thinking. Several different charities send me personalized return address labels. Who writes letters anymore?)

Now I know that charities have extensive experience with direct mail. I’m sure they closely track the return they get on their mailing campaigns, and I’m sure they wouldn’t engage in them if they didn’t consider them worthwhile.

Yet I believe they could sharply reduce their expenses – and stop annoying me – if they engaged in a little lean thinking.

What, exactly? Lean is all about creating value for the customer – and the customer defines value.

They are sending me sales pitches for a cause that they hope I will conclude has value. They already know I consider it valuable because I donated previously. I would view their organization as having even more value if they only sent me one or two reminders asking me to donate again in the following year, rather than a dozen.

But they don’t know that. Why not? Because they only solicit my money, and not my feedback (at least not about their marketing techniques). They might give me the option of getting off their mailing list, but not of receiving fewer letters.

Value is defined by the customer. To know how the customer defines it, you have to listen to the customer.

I wish more charities understood that.

P.S. When it comes to actually making a donation, about half the charities I dealt with gave me the option of donating online – which I view as very convenient. With the others, I have to mail a check or a credit card number back to them (and pay the postage myself). That is inconvenient for me, and it takes more time for the charity to actually get their money. More waste that could be eliminated.


The Process Ninja said...

You'd think that with all their extensive databases they could somehow gather the e-mail addresses of those that contributed previously and send them a thank-you e-mail, with details on how their money contributed previously with a link to an online donation form? Instead they waste money that could be helping on postage, printing and envelopes...

But this is something that many companies seem to do - waste money on old school, inefficient means of dealing with the customer. Why in this day and age I have to call an insurance company to e-mail me a form, which I have to print out and fax back for them to e-mail me back a copy, I have no idea...! But it upsets me!

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