3 min Read
January 12, 2018

Does your nonprofit need a Chief Experience Officer?

I’ve got a great dentist. They do excellent, pain-free work. Despite that, my experience at their practice hasn’t been great, and I’ve considered going somewhere else. Why? Because of little things that have a big impact on how I feel. The dentist often runs late, messing up my work schedule. There have been some billing glitches, and there are a few things about the office that bug me. You get the point: you’ve been there, too.

In the for-profit world, this is called “customer service,” and large companies prioritize it. They use call centers, net promoter scores, and dedicated staff to connect the dots, smooth out the bumps, and make sure their customers have the best experiences possible. But small businesses like my dentist and most nonprofits can’t afford dedicated staff to focus on customer service, so it often falls down (or off) the list of priorities, even when it’s baked into someone’s job description.

Wish you were able to more proactively and deliberately shape the experiences that donors, clients, and prospects have with you? Maybe it’s time to hire a Chief Experience Officer.

I first heard this job title used by Steve MacLaughlin, Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud, at the NPNext conference several years ago. Steve suggested that the head of communications and the head of digital or IT at nonprofits should join forces, creating the new Chief Experience Officer (or CXO) position. He argued that online experiences are so central to a person’s experience of a nonprofit that they shouldn’t be overseen by an IT professional, “web manager”, or a less-than-senior staff person.

I think Steve is right. (I also suspect that having your website, social media, or other digital properties managed by an IT person who has no deep communications or marketing expertise is a hangover from the early days of the internet.) But I’d like to see you go even further, integrating offline experiences into this role, too.

In a recent article I wrote (“What Can the Right Communications Staff Do for your Nonprofit?”)  I proposed that creating a cohesive experience of your organization is one of three primary functions a nonprofit communications team should perform. Doing it well requires knitting together your organization’s vision, mission, values, objectives, and active work with digital, print, and other communications in real-time. It takes strategic thinking, tactical expertise, and the ability work proactively and reactively at the same time. This would be the CXO’s job to direct and oversee.

The CXO, or others in their department, works closely with fundraisers to understand and help improve the donor’s experience with the organization. They also lead your communications or marketing department. They develop strategies and tactics (for instance, whether or when to send mails, what will be in the newsletter, etc.) deliberately crafted to help donors move up the ladder of engagement. They ensure the organization has a coordinated communications calendar and that all metrics are tracked and compared to past performance and industry benchmarks, then used to optimize future work.

Your CXO is also responsible for proactively defining your organization’s brand, which exists in the eyes of your internal and external constituents. She can help shape the organization’s brand strategy, visual identity, and messaging platform. She can train staff to write, speak, and design “on message” so you speak with a clearer, more consistent voice. She can save time and money by coaching new hires and frequent communicators on how to communicate most effectively. She might even measure levels of awareness, affinity, and engagement, using those insights to sharpen your messages and inform department-specific work, such as with donors, activists, or clients in your programs.

When the experience of your organization is inconsistent, unmanaged, or poorly executed, donors, clients, members, and others are unaware, disinterested, unclear, or unengaged with your work. It’s like Groundhog Day: starting over and over again every time.

When the experience of your nonprofit is managed successfully, you hear your own messaging echoed back to you by donors, clients, policymakers, and other target audiences. Your metrics indicate that key audiences are growing, paying attention, and engaging. Communications support the mission clearly and effectively. You’re delivering on all levels, not just your core programs.

Ready to hire that CXO or rethink your communications team? Big Duck can help– see our Teams page for more details. For additional reading, download this free ebook on the 5 factors that make nonprofit communications teams successful.