Today we’re talking about donor fatigue. As I was pulling together my thoughts about it, three words ran through my mind: “sick and tired.” You know the feeling.
“I’m sick and tired of telling you to pick up your room.” (My mom to me when I was a kid.)
“I’m sick and tired of telling you to pick up your room.” (Me to my kids now.)
“I’m sick and tired of feeling like they just want something from me.” (Your donors when they see your email pop into their inbox.)
Does this last reaction ever keep you up at night?
It’s a valid concern.
Feeling “sick and tired” is another way to think of donor fatigue. It brings donors’ feelings into the spotlight in a real and raw way.
What Is Donor Fatigue?
Oxford Languages defines donor fatigue as “a lessening of [a donor] to respond generously to charitable appeals, resulting from the frequency of such appeals.”
I often imagine it as a donor opening an email, receiving a piece of direct mail, getting a phone call or accepting an invitation to lunch with a slight eye roll, thinking, “What now?”
The good news? We can prevent that eye roll and irritation. Instead of exhausting donors (and inadvertently pushing them away) with too much, too often, we energize them with thoughtfully timed and customized appeals and by forging genuine relationships that respect and benefit one another.
First, Why Donor Fatigue Happens
Going Back to the Same Well
Most loyal donors are getting targeted repeatedly. The fact is that we tend to look at a gift as a reason to ask again. The reality is that when donors are constantly asked to save the day, it makes them weary and depletes their giving reservoir. Moreover, many nonprofits don’t use the personal touch and customization that tech platforms offer to make an appeal much more meaningful to supporters.
As Henny Penny Says, “The Sky Is Falling”
The chick in the well-known children’s fable “Chicken Little” thought the sky was falling (or the world was coming to an end) after a tiny acorn fell on her head. Like Henny Penny, we can fall into the trap of creating appeals that push too much urgency and doom. This type of narrative certainly has its place. If it’s used too often, however, you risk alienating donors, leaving them feeling they’ll never get a win no matter how often or how much they give.
Instead, show how things are looking up: End your stories on the right note. Share measurable gains and positive outcomes to show progress and inspire donors to stay in the game.
There’s No Clear, Compelling Need or Solution
Studies show that over 70% of donors are more likely to give when faced with a specific, compelling need. Provide concrete examples of your nonprofit’s need; paint a picture of the current state (issue) and how it can be improved (believable solution). Describe it in a way that your donors can envision. Additionally, explain how a community of like-minded, compassionate donors (like you!) can make the solution happen—or at least become more attainable.
4 Tips To Keep Donors Happy To Hear From You
#1 Assess the cadence of donor communication from your donors’ point of view.
Donors don’t usually understand the difference between annual giving, major giving and planned giving. They just know that they’re always being asked for a gift, which can leave them confused and frustrated. (Didn’t I just send you a donation last month? Why are you now sending me a postcard about how to make a gift in my will?!)
Step outside of your internal team dynamics and think about the kind of donor journey you’re delivering.
#2 A big must: Coordinate and communicate with other development and communications teams.
In the digital age, communication comes easy across different formats—email, social, texts, automated voice messaging—leaving many donors feeling bombarded.
Be careful not to overdo it. Coordinate your marketing calendar with every internal development and marketing team. Additionally, explore segmenting your digital and print messaging by age, gender, geography or psychographics so that your communications reach the right audience with the right message.
Other quick reminders for collaboration among internal teams:
- Set up regular meetings to discuss goals and plans. (And make it a priority to attend them.)
- Find a common external voice that works across departments.
#3 Show donors (and remind them) that planned gifts benefit them and their loved ones.
When donors choose to support a nonprofit through a life-income gift, like a gift annuity, for example, they receive a fixed stream of income for the rest of their life.
Other benefits from a planned gift can include:
- Additional tax benefits. Depending on the type of gift, advantages may include income tax deductions, reduction of estate taxes and avoidance of capital gains taxes.
- Planned gifts enable your donors to make an often more substantial gift than they might have been able to make during their lifetime because of other financial commitments.
CONSIDER: At the end of the day, let’s be honest. When weighing whether to give of our time or talents, we have all, at one time or another, thought, “What’s in it for me?!” Remind your donors of their win when making a planned gift to your nonprofit.
#4 Remember, they’re people too. Innate human motivators compel them to want…
To feel connected.
To keep donors energized and excited, keep connecting them directly to the mission and the amazing things they’ve made happen because of their gift. This happens by telling them all about the good things they created. Everyone loves a good story. Here’s how to tell one to donors.
My belief is that this next connection point is just as important—if not more—for heart-and-soul donor relationships: They want to connect with you personally, to know that you value them and like them as people, not simply a pocketbook.
Whatever their motivations and desires, meet them where they are. Hone your “relationship radar” to sense when they want more contact or when you need to pull back.
To know their gift makes an impact.
Again, this is Storytelling 101. Your annual report, quarterly newsletter and social media channels should have dedicated content demonstrating donor impact. A personal call or thank-you note updating a donor about a program or person they helped support will also go a long way.
To believe you are worthy of their trust.
The Leaving a Legacy study from Giving USA showed that confidence in a nonprofit’s longevity was a key factor in giving. Donors wanted to feel confident that the organization would be around for a long time. It was the second most popular reason (after mission) for choosing an organization that would receive a donor’s largest legacy gift.
Use social proof in your communications whenever possible. Provide regular updates on accomplishments. Be transparent with your financials. And share guiding policies you follow such as the Donor Bill of Rights.
We all worry about donor fatigue. Any tricks of the trade you can share to boost donors’ confidence to make a gift? Please do so, below. Also, here’s a bonus article, “Feeling Drained? 13 Tips to Revive You and Your Donors,” because you and your donors are awesome, and we don’t want anyone to feel sick and tired about planned giving.