I work at / co-founded a non profit organization that provides a free service pro bono (something like free lessons/consultations, often in groups).

Obviously, since it is free, there are aspects to it that make the quality and organization not as stellar as a for-profit service, e.g. maybe last-minute cancellations or changes, low available staff, etc.

Yet I get complaints all the time: "You should have told us [3 weeks] in advance", "This is very unprofessional", "This should have been done differently [this way] or [that way]", "How is it possible that I have to wait 2 days for the test result?", etc

Often this happens on our social media.

Is there a good (but also diplomatic) way to make it clear to all these "clients" that since it is free we do not have all the resources to meet their quality expectations and/or that they should be grateful that it is free in the first place?

  • Is checking social media your primary way of measuring satisfaction? – Brandin Sep 12 '14 at 7:43
  • You could just post a reply on social media asking them how much they paid for the service. There is of course the risk of losing a non-paying customer; that's a risk I would take. – gnasher729 Sep 12 '14 at 7:55
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    @Fredrik: Non-profit organisations can also charge for services rendered, but basically only to cover the costs they need to make to provide those services. – Bart van Ingen Schenau Sep 12 '14 at 8:18
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    @Fredrik: This is something that can back fire. If you take no money, you make the rules and can push back at unwanted behaviour. If you accept payment for unwanted behaviour, you indicate that the unwanted behaviour is acceptable. – gnasher729 Sep 12 '14 at 10:31
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about marketing/pricing. – Jim G. Sep 12 '14 at 11:46

You are a non-profit, so do you take donations (as in money)? Because you could always respond with 'Thanks for your feedback - if you'd like to make a donation to help improve our services, send it to '. Basically, a nice version of 'put up or shut up'.


Simply remind them that the service is free to them and is provided by a non-profit organisation that is doing the best it can with the resources it has. I don't think there's any reason to 'snark' about this, and as long as you avoid doing that, there is no way that a reasonable person can object when you politely remind people of this fact.

Once this happens, I suggest 'firing the customer' with the minority that continue to complain unreasonably. That will improve your stress levels and presumably free up resources to help the people who do appreciate the services you offer.


There are a number of studies on the psychology of "Free", it's been shown that people react differently to free things, as opposed to things costing virtually nothing (e.g. $1, £1 etc).

The thinking is that people see free as they are the provider by using your service (or taking the item off you hands), and to redress, it's actually worth charging something (even $1) to restore the dynamic.

This also applies to giving things away on Craigslist/Gumtree etc, where people have been shown to expect things like delivery provided (as they are "doing you a favour").

for example, from Psychology of the Sale:

consumers typically suffer from a version of the placebo effect. Since we expect cheaper goods to be less effective, they generally are less effective, even if they are identical to more expensive products. This is why brand-name aspirin works better than generic aspirin, or why Coke tastes better than cheaper colas, even if most consumers can’t tell the difference in blind taste tests. “We have these general beliefs about the world - for example, that cheaper products are of lower quality - and they translate into specific expectations about specific products,” said Shiv. “Then, once these expectations are activated, they start to really impact our behavior.

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