The Cure for Donor Fatigue
"There is donor fatigue," one of the community’s top philanthropists shared in a recent feasibility study interview.
Donor fatigue is a term often used. Is it real? It means a donor feels tired, worn out by requests from organizations.
Are there causes? Yes, usually poor fundraising that is not donor focused.
In one instance, a billionaire shared insight with us as a favor to a friend. The reality is, we learned, the tie to our client was not strong. The prospective donor had not been connected with the organization in more than a decade, after a great friend who was very involved had passed away.
The thought of honoring the memory of a friend would resonate, but not for a cause with which there was little connection. And over the last decade, the organization had done nothing to maintain or deepen the tie. We learned, frankly, that the nonprofit was grasping at straws, hoping for a home run.
The donor was kind to us. His insight was very helpful in crafting our recommendations. The organization had no major-gifts program, and the trail had run cold on many of its best prospects for the transformational gifts it desired.
Would the potential donors have expressed donor fatigue regarding organizations that they were passionate about? I don’t think so.
Contrast this with the excitement donors share when announcing transformational gifts to organizations to which they have been connected for many years—typically decades. Often, these gifts build on year after year of giving and involvement. So, why are they immune from donor fatigue?
They are immune because an organization listened, got them engaged and created a solution to pressing issues that they could be a part of. It was a long-term commitment over years and decades, not a shot in the dark, hoped for home run that often does more damage than good.
Donors at any level can suffer from fatigue. Prevention includes:
- Discerning who is a valid prospect for your organization—is there an intersection of values, interest?
- Listening to the donor and knowing when the time is right.
- Honoring the donor and putting his or her interests first.
- Building a genuine, long-term relationship.
- Helping the donor meet his or her needs.
- Strategically maintaining the engagement over a number of years with opportunities for involvement and giving building along the way.
Be sure that donors and prospective donors—at any level—don’t suffer from fatigue with your organization!
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.