It’s been something like 25 years that have past and I still remember it vividly. My dad rushes back into the car, that body language and look on his face that we knew all too well – “You are not allow to spend one fucking dollar here again. These assholes think they…you understand?! Don’t let me catch you ever eating goddamn Pizza Pizza…”

It turns out that my pops, who had my two older brothers and I in the car about to embark on a 5 hour road trip to visit my grandma in Cornwall, thought that he’d splurge and buy us all pizza slices to keep us satiated for the next five hours [I come from a family whereas you didn’t ever think of asking to stop at rest stop. You packed your food beforehand  and pissed in a communal bottle as necessary]. So he had bought both of my brothers regular slices and a square slice for little 7ish year-old me. Now, back in the day they would serve you your square slice on a piece of parchment paper while regular slices would come on a the standard triangular cardboard plate. My dad, thinking that I’d somehow make a mess had asked the Pizza Pizza Pizza-man for a cardboard plate [to match the texture?] for my square slice. He refused, my dad argued with him, he refused again, and to this day any time my brothers and I eat Pizza Pizza [hopefully for them as seldom as I do] my dad probably sheds a tear [he doesn’t shed tears…]. Talk about Freudian conditioning eh…

The moral of the story is that Pizza Pizza was our neighborhood pizza joint. And they never received another penny from my family – a family of 4 boys who alone could have put the owner’s kids through college.

I’ve paid my dues working a bunch of shit retail, customer service, public-facing jobs, enough to know that the customer isn’t always right. They can be a delight or an asshole – but you’ve got to pick your strategic battles.

Zappos [wow, the rhyme scheme in the last few sentences…] became famous and successful from their, unique at the time, progressive customer service model, which includes 7 weeks of training on how to make customers happy. They’ve been praised in the corporate world as “insane” and “fanatical” for the lengths to which they will go to please their customers – which is a key part of their brand. Examples include:

  • Zappos sent flowers to a woman who ordered six different pairs of shoes because her feet were damaged by harsh medical treatments.
  • A customer service rep physically went to a rival shoe store to get a specific pair of shoes for a woman staying at the Mandalay Bay hotel in Vegas when Zappos ran out of stock.
  • They once overnighted a free pair of shoes to a best man who had arrived a wedding shoeless.

Let’s take 15 and ponder:

  1. What kind of transformation would take place if every person in your organization, even [especially] your CEO, had to man the phones, donor service inbox, etc., for a minimum of 1 week?
  2. What would happen if you invested 5% of your acquisition budget into retention? What if you created an actual retention department similar to corporate loyalty departments?
  3. What if each donor relations rep had a $500/year budget to simply go above and beyond for donors – for example, being able to send flowers to your most loyal donor on their birthday?
  4. What kind of organization would you have if you enacted a “no-transfer” phone policy? Whereas, if a donor calls the wrong extension, there is no immediate diffusion of responsibility and whoever answers the phone first listens to the donor’s concern and ensures that the issue is resolved in a timely manner.
  5. How would a mother of two, who overcame her fear of fundraising and raised $1200 for your cause, feel if you gave two of her toddlers an event t-shirt as well, even though they didn’t directly raise the $100 minimum for a shirt?
  6. What kind of fundraisers would you attract if you offered them unlimited vacation time [outside of key fundraising seasons obviously]?
  7. What kind of employees would you retain if it was mandatory that every employee and board member made a financial contribution to your cause [within their capacity]
  8. What would happen if you gave a personal response to each and every donor who took the time and energy out of their day to write you a handwritten letter?
  9. What kind of culture would you create if every single individual in your organization was directly responsible for raising a minimum of $1 for your cause? If IT, HR, Purchasing, etc., had to know what it is like to overcome the resistance and ask for a gift.
  10. How much more would your team go above and beyond the position description if you didn’t give them bullshit tiered numbered ranking systems tied to their performance that equates those who come in and perform their assigned duties 9-5 the same as those who go above and beyond and bring more value to the organization through employee engagement initiatives, represent your organization at events, etc.?
  11. How would donors react if you had 1 donor service rep available after hours and on weekend, perhaps not to solve their issue but at least acknowledge their inquiry? [tip: see number 10]
  12. What kind of response would you engender if you actually hand-signed each and every thank you letter rather than use a shitty low res quality e-signature?
  13. What kind of breakthroughs would your organization have if you institutionalized that every staff member had to dedicate 1 half day per week solely to idea generation?
  14. What if you invested in culture as strategy?
  15. What pain points would you discover and actively remedy if you took 15 minutes to figure out where your organization is refusing to give metaphorical cardboard plates rather than parchment paper?

update on 03/21/17: Seth Godin just published a post on this very topic as well, worth the read: “When we add up lots of little compromises, we get to celebrate the big win. But overlooked are the unknown costs over time, the erosion in brand, the loss in quality, the subtraction from something that took years to add up. In a competitive environment, the key question is: What would happen if we did a little better? Organizations that add just a little bit every day always defeat those that are in the subtraction business.”

May you continue to cultivate the joy of giving, one dollar at a time

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