Going Back to the Well: Why Donor Fatigue is Not Real

Early in the 14th century, the French coined a saying that the pot goes so often to the water that it breaks.

In the fundraising world, it might seem like our donors are like that overused water pot. We ask them to make a donation so often that might break from donor fatigue. However, donor fatigue is not a real thing. It’s an excuse. If your donors are feeling burned out from all your asks, then your asks are what—pardon my french—suck.

Recently, Marc Pitman of FundraisingCoach.com explained why donor fatigue is a myth.

“I don’t know of any donors who are tired of giving to causes that they value, they are passionate about, they are excited to be involved in,” Pitman said. “I know plenty of donors who are being fatigued of being crappily asked.”

Nonprofits know their donors aren’t made of money, so it is possible to ask too often? Technically, yes. Asking everyday would get old quickly (and seem desperate). Here are some tips on how you keep your donors engaged and energized, without buying them daily supplies of Mountain Dew or 5-Hour Energy.

Create a Plan

Last week, the nonprofit that I am executive director of conducted our biggest fundraising pushes as part of a community giving day. The day was a smashing success, but the fundraising still goes on. As we look forward to our next event, we want to make sure that we aren’t exhausting our donors and coming off as desperate or needy. After some discussion, we concluded that people believe in our cause and want to help in any way they can. If we do our job and present those reasons in an appealing fashion during our asks, our next campaign won’t be too soon.

Ask yourselves—when is the next appropriate time to ask our donor base to make another contribution? If you develop a year-round approach to fundraising complete with a calendar to see how everything works together, your fundraising will be more complete and comprehensive. Your asks should build off of previous campaigns.

When you are making your plans, try to create several different options. Just like people have different learning styles, donors have different giving habits. Some donors might be attracted to year-end giving, while others prefer a monthly giving-plan. Others might even like event giving, whether it’s a banquet or event. You don’t have to do everything, but consider these options and what fits best into your fundraising plan.

Make It About Them

Besides the timing of your campaigns, your messages also matter. It is not the asking that is the issue. It’s how you ask. When you are writing your letters and asks, remember it is not about the great work you are doing. It is about the generosity of your donors and how they contribute to your efforts.

“Tell them ‘You are smart because you are giving. Will you be that smart again?’” Pitman said.

One way to determine how donor-friendly your message is involves the Ahern Test. Read your copy and count the number of times you wrote “we” versus “you.” If your ‘we’ count is higher than the number of ‘you’s, then it’s time to rewrite. The message should focus on the difference the donors are making and the direct impact their donation is making.

Build the Relationship

Once someone has made a donation to your organization, keep the communication lines open. Donors want to know where their money went and the impact you made with it. Simone Joyaux, a nonprofit expert and former nonprofit fundraiser, said that often nonprofits don’t provide enough love to their donors.

Joyaux challenged nonprofits in a post in Nonprofit Quarterly to step up their game.

“It’s not the asking that fatigues me. I’m tired of insufficient love from you,” Joyaux wrote. “You don’t tell me how you spent my money. You don’t tell me that I’m a hero, even if my gift was only $25. I’m not looking for stunning creative. Stop it! I want good old-fashioned well-written fundraising letters.”

As Joyaux points out, donors might not give every cycle, but most of the time it isn’t anything against the nonprofit. Donor fatigue could be an option, but not because you are asking too much, it is because the asks are bad. Life happens and budgets change. Stay persistent and fresh.

So don’t worry about breaking the pot by going to the well one too many times. If a donor believes in your cause they will never tire of helping your nonprofit do great things.

Donor Fatigue

Lincoln Arneal

Lincoln Arneal was a Senior Editor at Nonprofit Hub who brought loads of real-world nonprofit experience to the team. He was the past executive director of a nonprofit that provided leadership development to junior high and high school students. He looked to bring the insights from his time forming, developing, and running a nonprofit to help others in their quest to do good. Lincoln also had a legal background and had written for various newspapers (covering high school sports) for the past 15 years. He could be followed on Twitter at @NPLNK.

June 1, 2015

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