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Small print and mismanaging our expectations

08/04/2011

On returning from a lovely holiday in France this week, I’ve spent time catching up on news, emails and generally chasing down what I missed whilst away.

Free Kittens

They are not free!

The headline which caught my eye concerned the launch of BT’s new online giving service, myDonate, because it touched a nerve that’s been exposed a fair bit over the last several weeks. Simply put, too much communication from all sorts of sources over-promises and under-delivers.

The major splash across pages reporting the BT story was something like “BT enters online fundraising market with fee-free offer to rival JustGiving and Virgin Money”. But it isn’t free, is it. Charities still pay credit card fees (albeit at reduced rates).

On checking my insurance cover for a recent claim I found out that a clause buried deep in the small print and not mentioned during the sales process, meant that I was not covered for what I perceived to be legitimate and accidental damage to my property.

I exchanged my pounds for Euros for my holiday to take advantage of the Post Office’s ‘commission free’ service only to find when speaking to other travellers that the exchange rate I received is much poorer than elsewhere. Presumably to cover the Post Office’s costs!

Lastly, having received a flyer through my letterbox and seen the corresponding online advert, I booked theatre tickets to see a show at my local venue. Guess what; the price quoted and promoted did not include the mandatory booking fee of nearly £2 per ticket. And I couldn’t avoid paying this even if I went to the theatre personally and paid in cash!

Surely mismanaging customers’ expectations can’t be the way to go if organisations want any chance at all of repeat business?

And the same applies to charity campaigns, perhaps just on a different scale. I’ve seen examples of membership packages ‘sold’ to supporters on the grounds of a bundle of benefits, some of which never materialise – most typically supporter magazines that are either cut altogether or have their frequency reduced.

Or how about the number of London marathon runners who are disappointed each year because they didn’t clearly understand what they were signing up for in terms of financial commitment to a charity?   (I appreciate that charities can’t always prevent this but it’s still all about managing expectations clearly and up-front)

I’m not joking when I say that I now look at the fundraising campaigns I see with an expectation that something won’t be all it’s cracked up to be.

For example, I don’t envy any development charity trying to do great work in Africa and asking the public for cash. How many Land Rovers have already been donated that we still need more? Why aren’t these problems being solved? Why doesn’t the money raised seem to be making a permanent difference?

In our increasingly stressed lives I would much prefer, wherever possible, that people were honest and open about the needs they are trying to persuade me to support or the services they are trying to sell. I’ve had enough of being cynical and having to assume that whenever I see the word ‘free’, it’s simply not true.

By the same token, I don’t respond to charity campaigns promising to end world poverty, bring a total end to child cruelty and deliver peace on earth. All incredibly laudable but utterly impossible and therefore mismanaging donor expectations, at least in the foreseeable future for most of us.

Pick realistic marketing messages, communicate them honestly and make good on your promises.  Job done.

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Thanks to uksceptics.com for miracle cure image
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