photo credit Photo by Zackary Drucker on The Gender Spectrum Collection
3 min Read
November 12, 2019

3 ways a chief experience officer (CXO) can change your nonprofit for the better

The job title “chief experience officer” (or “CXO”) is gaining traction in the nonprofit sector— but I’ve been trying to find real people who are actually doing this job in nonprofits for years with limited success. I was thrilled to discover that CaringBridge, a nonprofit whose services I’ve used personally and often recommended (and, more recently, has become a Big Duck client) created a CXO role.

In case you aren’t familiar with their work, CaringBridge helps keep family and friends connected during health-related events and crises online through personal privacy-protected websites. With over 300,000 daily visits, creating positive user experiences is central to advancing their mission because their users are patients, care-partners, and friends and family members. If they don’t have a positive experience using CaringBridge’s tools their health journey may become even more chaotic and stressful, robbing them of the nurturing support provided by their community.

Recently, I got a chance to catch up with Brigid Bonner, who is CaringBridge’s Chief Experience Officer (CXO) by phone and ask her what her job is really all about. While Bonner oversees functions that most nonprofits would consider central, her primary orientation is different– and has game-changing implications.

Here are three key insights I gleaned from our discussion.

CXOs orient themselves from their target audience’s perspective

Many organizations design programs and market from an organization-centric vantage point. They start with their own agenda— chiefly, what they must do or communicate to advance their mission and their other objectives. They set their marketing, communications, development, and other agendas by answering questions such as What do we need to communicate? What sort of support will help us advance our mission?

 Organization-centric nonprofits also often have structural and/or cultural barriers between their programs-delivery and external affairs teams. (External affairs typically includes marketing, communications, development, events, and publicity functions). Programs people may be perceived and treated as the “real” people who advance the mission, while the fundraisers and communicators may be treated as secondary and garner less respect within their organizations.

CXOs orient their work from the perspective of their target audience first.

 “In every job I’ve ever had I’m always asking, Who is the stakeholder? What problems do they have? How can we solve those problems? How can we create “wow” moments?   If you think about these problems as the hub of the work you want to do, then you’re a customer experience person at heart,” says Bonner.

 As a CXO, she sees every patient, care partner, and supporter of CaringBridge as a customer— and the organization’s most important stakeholder. Todays’ patients and caregivers become tomorrow’s donors and advocates, so experiences are designed “from the outside in.” Every piece of communication and/or web experience must provide a consistent, pleasing and frictionless user experience. Bonner orients herself toward their point of view first and uses it to guide decision-making and set agendas.

 CXOs connect key departments

Because CXOs orient themselves from the audience’s point of view, the traditional structures, rules, or boundaries found in many nonprofits become less relevant.

CaringBridge has a customer care team, which most nonprofits don’t invest in. The customer care team responds to emails, writes FAQs, and chats with people (on the phone and online) who use their services every day. These exchanges provide a constant stream of inputs that keep CaringBridge in touch with their primary audience in much more tangible and real-time ways then periodic surveys or interviews can.

 As CXO, Bonner oversees the development, marketing, product (which is CaringBridge’s core service), and customer care teams. Centralizing these teams under one leader helps connect the dots and break down silos. It also ensures that fundraisers and marketers communicate more directly with the mission-delivery team.

CXOs know that experience is multi-dimensional

Earlier this week, I called a nonprofit’s main number and found myself in a frustrating maze of wrong extensions, full mailboxes, and recorded messages. I just wanted to find a particular staff person— but that simple task took several frustrating attempts and a fair amount of tenacity to achieve.

 CXOs like Bonner know that every experience counts— including how friendly and easy the experience is when you call the organization, for instance. While her organization is clearly digital-first, she encourages her teams to understand and consider all touchpoints that will influence their CaringBridge experience. 

Is it time for your organization to create a CXO position? Perhaps, particularly if the work you do is not yet fully grounded in the voices and experiences of the people you work with.