Shadow boxing with ‘donor fatigue’

Published by Usha Menon on

Often at non-profit forums, I get asked about ways to address “donor fatigue”.

But I don’t believe that donor fatigue is a real thing. It is a diplomatic way the media devised for saying that donors are fed up with incessant appeals by charities! Many fundraisers have jumped on that bandwagon and used it as a way of justifying poor performance in taking care of the supporters of their cause.

Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that motivate individuals or decision makers in organisations to become donors or supporters:

Urgency of need and affinity to the cause: The urgency of a situation moves people to take positive action, as seen over and over again with disaster response giving. Organisations can build affinity by helping donors understand why a particular cause is vital and the consequences to the community, country or to the world, without the services the organisation delivers.

A clear request: In surveys done across many countries and cultures, one of the main reasons why people do not give is always found to be “because they were never asked” or, when they were asked, “the ask was not clear enough to help them respond”.

A relationship with the cause: As the population gets more sophisticated, people increasingly are engaging with organisations that practice transparency, authentic storytelling and technical savvy outreach. They not only give money, but also volunteer and lend the force of their own social networks for causes they believe in.

Being part of the solution: My 29 years of experience with building donor relationships have shown that donors have had enough of the “we have a problem and hence we need your support” appeal. They are looking for how they can be part of the solution, rather than being asked to fix a problem.

Though not exhaustive, I hope this list provides insight into the donor psyche. Hence, my appeal to fundraisers is to stop worrying about this concept of donor fatigue and focus on how we can build “donor energy”. Engage people in a manner where they are not asked to sacrifice but are provided with a meaningful opportunity to impact our community. This helps to convert the “vicious cycle” of donor attrition into a “virtuous cycle” of donor referrals.

In an environment where there is a proliferation of causes and fundraising methodologies, organisations successful in fundraising and resource mobilisation don’t just motivate people – they inspire them to take action. They invest energy in the early stages as well as throughout the relationship by engaging people with the cause, building trust and making them feel part of the solution. This is reflected in their online and offline communications, be it their appeals, acknowledgement receipts, thank-you letters or their personal contacts with current and potential donors.

Another key component is to have a spirit of enterprise and innovation in fundraising methods. Alfred Edward Perlman was quoted in The New York Times way back on 5 July 1958 as saying, “After you’ve done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years, look at it with suspicion. And after ten years, throw it away and start all over.”

If this holds true, it is high time we look very carefully or with suspicion at some of our fundraising methods. One case in point might be street collection. Not only is it an inefficient way of raising funds in most cases, but more importantly, it does not help the donor or the nonprofit organisation to get to know each other and develop a relationship. Is it time to throw it away?

We need to uplift our supporters such that they get an addiction for our cause. Once we do, we’ll no longer have to worry about donor fatigue.

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Usha Menon

Usha Menon is a keen observer and active global participant of the non-profit sector for the past 26 years. She is Executive Chairman of Usha Menon Management Consultancy (Asia), an international training and consultancy service that is focused on shaping the world through social-impact organisations across Asia. A celebrated speaker, connector and consultant on non-profit management, fundraising and philanthropy, Usha has worked with and inspired non-profit leaders and donors across the globe in over 30 countries. Her blog Asian Nonprofit Insights can be visited at www.ushamenonasia.com/blog.


Simone Joyaux · July 25, 2017 at 14:01

Ah yes…the donor fatigue myth. That excuses the fundraiser and organization from doing poor fundraising.

Yes, as a donor, I am fatigued. Fatigued by your lack of donor centrism. Your lack of understanding what I’m interested in and not interested in. I;m fatigued by poor (or just plain common and uninteresting) direct mail. (Where did you get my name anyway?)

Me… the donor…I’m tired of you and your poor fundraising and less-than-good relationship building. And and and…

So stop the donor fatigue silliness. I’m fatigued with your organization and your inadequacy.

    Usha Menon · July 25, 2017 at 14:57

    Haha spoken like a passionate donor, Simone! I feel you :)

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