I received an extraordinary message recently.
With the permission of the author, I’m going to share her message with you. It’s a superb example of how to respond to criticism and turn it into an opportunity for positive engagement. It also raises an interesting issue that I want you to share your thoughts about.
Earlier this summer, my wife received an email appeal from Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum and Library. That email inspired me to write a blog post about fundraising by email (“Stop Making Stupid Email and Direct Mail Mistakes”). The post was admittedly harsh though constructive with eight useful tips for the Rosenbach and you.
While I alerted the Rosenbach to the post, I never heard back from staff, not that I had requested or expected a reply. That is until a few weeks ago when I received the following message from Sara Davis, the new Marketing Manager at the Rosenbach:
Dear Mr. Rosen:
I recently joined the Rosenbach staff as the manager of marketing, and I stumbled across this post while getting caught up on social media mentions from the summer. Criticism can be hard to hear, and I admit that I would prefer to have found it in my inbox rather than see the organization named in a public post, but your advice is constructive and I agree with many of your points. I will certainly pass these suggestions along to my colleagues; our future campaigns will no doubt benefit from your expertise. My thanks.”
Wow! I was impressed with Davis’ message. I thank her for allowing me to share it with you. Davis struck the right tone and managed to pack a lot into a brief communication. Here are some of the reasons her message works:
Respectful. Davis referred to me as Mr. Rosen, knowing and respecting my feelings on the subject of salutations, which I had addressed in my post. Davis and I did not know each other, so an informal form of address would have been presumptuous.
Introduction. Davis introduced herself to me, told me her title, and mentioned that she is new to the Rosenbach, hence the delay in contacting me. This established a personal connection while putting her message into context.
Honesty. Davis shared her honest feelings about seeing my post. But, she did so in a professional way, without whining, complaining, or being defensive. She did not take my criticism personally. She did not take offense or, at least, she did not show that she was offended.
Value. Davis acknowledged that my post offered constructive criticism. She went on to show that she valued the tips I provided in my post. She also mentioned that she would share my advice with her colleagues. By valuing my advice, she showed she values me.
Thank you. Davis then concluded her message by thanking me! How often do you thank people for having criticized you or your organization? I know that I don’t do it very often. However, by thanking me, Davis reveals an understanding that constructive feedback is an opportunity for us to improve. She also understands that when someone takes the time to passionately and constructively offer criticism, it’s probably because they care.
Engagement. By writing to me, Davis engaged me and opened the door for me to contact her directly. And that’s exactly what I did.
Because of my interaction with Davis, the positive feelings I once had for the Rosenbach were rekindled.
When choosing whether to respond to criticism and, if responding, how to respond, we would be well served by following Davis’ excellent example. Every interaction is an opportunity for cultivation.
Now, here is where you come in.
Davis mentioned in her message that she would have preferred if my criticism were not public. In other words, while not challenging the points I made, Davis made it clear that she wishes I had not mentioned the Rosenbach by name. This raises a valid question:
When publicly critiquing the work of a nonprofit organization, should I mention the organization’s name?
Not surprisingly, when I praise an organization’s work, no one ever suggests that I should not mention the name of the institution. However, when criticizing an organization, I have had some readers suggest that I should not embarrass the charity by revealing its name.
Maybe it’s the old newspaper editor in me, but I generally believe in naming the subject of my stories. When I write a post based on recent news headlines (e.g., my recent post about Vanderbilt University), choosing to name the organization is a no-brainer. Even when discussing an organization’s fundraising appeal, I’ve usually name the charity; after all, the appeal itself was quasi-public. Furthermore, my blog readers are nonprofit managers and fundraising professionals, seldom, if ever, the general public.
I believe that naming the subject of my posts provides complete information, helps readers put the story into a broader context, enables readers to better relate to the situation described, and underscores that the story is a true, real-world example.
Those who argue for anonymity typically suggest that I should not embarrass the organization or its staff. One reader even suggested that by naming a charity, I might hurt the feelings of the staff member responsible for the appeal I was reviewing. Other folks have suggested that it really doesn’t benefit the reader much to know the name of the nonprofit organization.
So, what do you think? Should I continue to name names, or not? Please respond to the following poll question and/or leave a comment below:
If enough readers share their views and if there is a clear consensus, my future posts will be guided accordingly.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?