It’s not often you get to be the physicist and the atom. What I mean by this is that I find myself in a unique situation that is simultaneously wonderful and terrifying: I get to both feel and observe my reactions in a situation that was almost entirely predictable.
I knew it was a mistake going in to give CheapButDemandingClient – hereinafter referred to as CBDC because typing CheapButDemanding Client is a pain and though my impulse is to refer to them as TheClientFromHell I am trying to reduce hyperbole in my life and the frightening fact is they could be a lot worse than they are – a proposal with a reduced rate. It doesn’t matter how noble your cause is, nor does it matter that you’re a non-profit which is suffering under the 11% reduction in individual giving from 2008. If you want work done by someone with specialized skills, and particularly if you want it on a short timeline after having screwed around for nearly a month making a decision, it’s going to cost you. I know this, everyone with half a brain knows this, yet I gave them a proposal with a reduced rate anyway. The reason I did that is simple.
I wanted to see if it would turn out the way I thought it would, and, like Cassandra, my prediction has turned out to be true yet, like the rest of the world, I didn’t listen to that prediction.
I thought I’d be able to knock out their little job in no time flat. The things they’ve asked me to do, create some sign-up form pages, attach some automatic notification e-mails to those pages, and create some “tell your friend about us” pages and attach those to the sign-up pages, usually take me about 45 minutes at my day job. What I didn’t factor in was the exsertus horribilis of dealing with a needy, self-entitled client.
Yes, it’s true, the forms I created for them don’t look exactly like the Microsoft Word document they gave me. So I went back and put their 54 custom fields into a grid like they specified, an hour for which I don’t plan on charging them because, well, that was my mistake not getting it as close as possible to what they gave me. That said, there is no cause to yell at me in e-mail.
Yes, the Executive Director, whose third biggest concern after the fact that the custom fields requesting copious involvement information from the supporter weren’t laid out in a grid was that his picture and quote were no longer on the page. Shocking, I know, that his narcissism would rank only third but his second biggest concern stems from the fact that he apparently can’t remember what he approved.
What he approved was not as he describes it, “We had decided that people would see the header with my quote, and then they would have three options to [take a pledge to do something totally unmonitorable], to donate, and to join outreach ALL ON THE SAME PAGE. They would not be separate pages.” What he approved was this wireframe which clearly indicates a landing page with graphics, introductory text, and links out to three separate pages.
That is a direct quote, by the way, with no added hyperbole from me. So, essentially, someone who wanted my services for a discounted rate just screamed at me via e-mail. This is where the unique and terrifying aspect of this endeavor comes into play.
I don’t react well to being screamed at. My first natural impulse is to scream back for a couple of reasons not the least of which is that in my family we were taught never to hit first but always to hit back, and hit hard. Just the same way it’s a bad idea to tell a client that what he wants is a bad idea or can’t be done, it never pays, either literally or figuratively, to scream back at the client on the first insult. Knowing this puts me in a unique position of feeling like I want to bruise this guy in some way but having to prioritize other objectives over that impulse.
The thing is, I know I’m in the right. The way they want to do things is overly complicated, technically nearly impossible for the money and time they have to spend, and is a typical small non-profit move. The choices they’re offering supporters – take a pledge to do something, make a financial contribution, or indicate a willingness to volunteer time to help organize around the issue – represent three distinct levels of engagement for a supporter.
Taking a pledge is nothing. It requires a the minimal amount of effort to fill in personal information on a web form. What it is, though, is an indicator of at least interest in the issue and the organization’s approach to the issue.
Make a contribution is a bit more of a commitment. It requires more effort than taking a pledge; there’s more information requested, someone has to get out their credit card, and they have to spend money.
Indicating a willingness to volunteer time is in some ways a deeper commitment than giving money and in some ways it isn’t. The form does request a ton more information but without follow-up from a live human being at the organization all this form does is indicate willingness. Until those supporters are trained and organized that willingness is just potential not actuality.
Each one of these levels of commitment from a supporter requires a different strategy to get them more deeply involved with the organization. It’s called the ramp of engagement and the idea is that you solicit more engagement based 1) what level the supporter enters your organization at, and 2) what your organizational needs are at the time. If you really need donations, the next solicitation might be to convert pledge takers to donors; if you need people on the ground for a rally, the next step might be to ask them to come out for that.
The engagement misstep CBDC is making here is wanting to slap all the choices into a single spot because they don’t have enough staff or haven’t thought out the follow-up structure. Basically, they don’t want to do the work on the back end to solicit these folks along. For whatever reason, they’re greedy and they want to short cut that supporter development process. It’s a mistake and it won’t work, and I could tell the client this if I thought he was willing to listen, but I already know he’s not.
I wrote back to him, and to the substitute project manager who seems like a nice woman but doesn’t seem to understand a single bit of anything technical, indicating what he’d approved and that I would redo the custom fields listing.
I sent off an e-mail indicating that the revisions had been done last night. It will be interesting to see how much work they try to push for. It will also be interesting to see if I can make a conscious decision to control my temper.
Oh, and have I mentioned that CBDC’s check for the initial deposit on the contract hasn’t arrived yet and they’re already into me for another 5 hours? Yeah, this is gonna get ugly.