How to Apologize… or Customer Service in the Non Profit World

The customer is always right. We all already know that.

When it isn’t so clear that one party is a “customer” however, it can sometimes get muddy.

Earlier this year I had a meeting at my son’s school. He was the victim of violence in his class. He wasn’t hurt seriously, but he was ganged up on by 10-15 kids TO ONE. Yes, 15-1. On the new kid, the new oleh. When I went into that meeting I thought that I was remarkably calm. I didn’t drag 15 other adults with me to gang up on the staff. I sat respectfully in my chair, and I heard the school out. They said they were sorry………………………… but.

But, they aren’t a private school and they can’t pick and choose who is there.

But, they didn’t know he was having any issues with anyone in his class because he doesn’t complain to them.

But, they didn’t hear from us in the weeks leading up to the incident when there had been verbal taunting.

And you know what? All of those “buts” are true. And that didn’t make one spot of difference to me.

I only heard one thing:


I recently had to deal with a very disgruntled “customer” who felt very wronged. I then had to deal with a very disgruntled staff member who felt that this was truly not all their fault and proceeded to take partial responsibility and apologize to the “customer”…… but.

And that is what upset the “customer” the most.

Why the quotation marks? In the non-profit world, it is not always easy to know who is a customer.A service recipient? (they aren’t paying for goods or services) A donor? (neither are they) A participant? (sometimes they paid, sometimes they didn’t) A participant’s parents? (sometimes they paid and didn’t receive a service) What about a volunteer?

It is my personal approach that the answer is “all of the above”. Especially in the non-profit world, the “customer experience” includes just about everyone who comes in contact with your staff. A positive emotional response to what you do is your primary goal, results in increased membership, donors, participation, etc.

It isn’t always possible, to treat everyone with stellar customer service, or to tell everyone that they are always right, but it certainly is an ideal.

I think the same is true at home. Who is the customer, so to speak? Your spouse? Your parents? Your kids? We all know that everyone would prefer being spoken to nicely. We all know that a happy home makes everyone want to be there more, visit more, give more.

But what if someone is upset at you and you are just 100% certain that it isn’t all your fault? What if you know that if  only THEY had let you get enough sleep, or done their job properly, or come home on time, or stopped using the computer or…. then you would have just been the mother/wife/sister/friend of the year?

I think we all want unequivocal apologies. At work, at play, at home. If you think you could have done better, then say it. No qualifications. For most adults, this isn’t showing unrealistic weakness. Even if one can’t recognize it in the heat of the moment, most of us know that the other person with whom we are upset would have done better if we had let you get sleep or had come home on time or had done our job properly or….

I am sorry and will try do to better or differently is often much harder than it sounds. It is our honor and self image at stake, after all. As if it were ever really about us.

But doesn’t that unequivocal apology make you feel better when you are upset?

I have been on such a long, long hiatus from this blog, and I am hoping this marks the beginning of the end.

I am sorry, and I will try to do better.   :  )