Donor Fatigue Is a Myth

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By Jeff Schreifels

It’s amazing to Richard and me the wild stories nonprofit leaders and fundraisers make up in their heads about why donors are not giving. It’s like you’re trying to develop excuses not to go out and fundraise — and you’re a fundraiser!

I’ve been in fundraising for more than 30 years. For eight years, I worked as a development director for a couple of small nonprofits. For 12 years, I worked in a large agency serving nonprofits where I helped develop strategies for large nonprofits’ direct-response programs. And, over the last 12 years now, I’ve worked with Richard and our team helping develop mid, major and planned giving programs for nonprofits.

I gave you that little bio to let you know I’ve experienced and created strategy for the entire donor pipeline. I’ve seen it all, been through some terrible disasters in the world and witnessed some amazing giving in response to them.

Yet through it all, I’ve never empirically encountered donor fatigue. It astounds me that you, our nonprofit sector and the press that covers the nonprofit community still use it as a reason or an excuse for donors not giving.

I just read it again the other day: “Donor fatigue cited as reason giving barely went up in 2020.”

Really? Can you prove that?

No. But it makes for a good headline and it lets everyone off the hook.

If your major donors are giving less year-over-year, there are three basic reasons why. One, you don’t control and two you do.

  1. The one you don’t control is there may be something going on with a donor’s personal financial situation that has changed. Perhaps they experienced a job loss or a financial loss.
  2. You are not asking. Or, you are not asking enough.
  3. You don’t have a compelling offer for the donor to inspire them to give.

In all my years of fundraising, No. 2 and No. 3 are usually the reasons we see donors giving less or the same amount year after year.

This donor fatigue thing is like a chicken and egg situation. Nonprofit leaders hear there is donor fatigue out there, therefore, they tell their fundraisers not to ask a donor for a gift or to reduce the number of times they ask for a gift. This is what happened with many nonprofit’s during the pandemic in 2020. Many in leadership told fundraisers to either reduce or stop soliciting. Guess what happened? Amazingly, donors stopped giving or gave less!

However, the nonprofit fundraisers who ignored the “donor fatigue” myth and are out there creating solid donor relationships, figuring out donors’ passions and interests, and spending a ton of time and resources on creating offers that have a compelling need and a believable solution are seeing fantastic growth.

When you do this, we see donors continuing to give, giving more and giving transformational gifts — regardless of what is going on in the world.

You see, all donors have specific interests and passions. Yes, your donors are probably giving to help in the relief of the pandemic. I hope they are! But, if you are doing your job by knowing your donor so well that you know exactly what they will want to invest in, you are going to continue to see their giving levels increase.

So, if you review your portfolio or you see that giving to your organization was either down or limping along at a slow growth rate last year, don’t blame “donor fatigue.” This cannot be your scapegoat.

Look inward, instead. Ask yourself, “What am I doing to cultivate this donor relationship?” “Am I inspiring my donor with a compelling need and a believable solution so much so that my donor just has to make an impact?”

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