Is Donor Fatigue Real?

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on May 21st, 2015 in Thoughts & Commentary

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One of the most frequently asked questions that I get on the subject of fund development is, “What about donor fatigue?  Does it really exist?”  The answer, generally, is, “It depends upon whom you ask.”  Some people believe it is real, that people who have given, and are inclined to give, get worn down by constant asking and, one day, just stop giving cold turkey, or giving less than before and gradually stop or some variation.  Fundraising experts prefer the response that there is no such thing as donor fatigue but that it is rather an excuse conjured up by boards, executive directors, development staff to explain lackluster fundraising results caused by faulty fundraising strategies.

Well, I attest to the fact that it is real—at least for this one person.  Not that I’m slacking off in my giving or stopping altogether.  But I haven’t opened snail mail solicitations in a good 15 years.  Straight into the trash they go.  I started doing the same thing with electronic solicitations about eight years ago, when the “help, we will be out of money tomorrow” emails were flooding my mailbox.  When the phone rings and the caller is identified as a charity, I don’t answer the phone.  Fatigued?  You betcha!  Wrong fundraising strategies for this donor.  Absolutely.  And it all leaves me frustrated, disgusted, angered, and, yes, sad.  Sad that so many seem to be getting it all so wrong.

Readers of this blog know that I am not a fan of Giving Tuesday.  Earlier this month, I read about the success of the second annual Give Local America 24 hours fundraising campaign that happened “across the country.”  Well, it happened in 180 communities around the country, but not here in Philadelphia.  Saw and heard nary a sign.  (Nor did I read, hear or see any sign for the first annual Give Local campaign last year.)

If the name calls to mind the American Express sponsored “Small Business Saturday,” you landed where I did when I first read it, and I don’t believe it is merely coincidence.   No surprise, the Give Local campaign is linked to community foundations—and I love community foundations.  So, you’d think I’d be a fan.  But I’m not.  I’m feeling tired and ornery and put upon by one more opportunity to have to make a tough decision about where to spend my limited charitable dollars.  This year’s Give Local raised 29% more than last year’s event, bringing in over $68 million; last year’s Giving Tuesday increased its dollars by 63%–but recognize that it is a global campaign running in 68 countries.

The Seattle Foundation’s Give Local campaign, combined with its own GiveBig campaign, brought in the most money for the second time in row, raising over just over $16 million for a bit more 1700 local nonprofits.  The local professional soccer team, the Seattle Founders, helped with the promotion. Seattle and the campaign overall saw the things that nonprofits like to see:  an increase in new donors—overall, 35% of the donors said it was their first time giving to a particular charity; and individual gifts increased by 23% compared to last year.  Have I mentioned that Give Local was started by Kimbia, the for-profit organization that created the crowdfunding software that many nonprofits used for this campaign.  Hmmm.   Kimbia claims that this month’s Give Local  was “officially the largest, single-day, charitable crowdfunding event to date.”

But, Kimbia, don’t celebrate yet, as we don’t know how well the British import Red Nose Day will do this Thursday (21 May).  Yup, another national push—this one tied to “the power of entertainment” – to raise money – oh, and have fun -for children and young people living in poverty.  This is a cause near and dear to my heart, but you won’t find me donning a clown nose on Thursday or any other day to take my selfie or be in some other photo—yup, that is what you are supposed to do first…or giving money—the second thing you are supposed to do.  More than half of the “millions” (couldn’t find an exact number) of red noses, that you can only buy at Walgreens and Duane Reade, have already been sold and the pictures of people in their clown noses (I was under the impression that many children have major fears of clowns; interesting choice) are already posted; and you can already be giving—no need to wait until the 21st.  Its charity partners, one assumes the organizations that will receive the money raised, are all biggies, the ones the vast majority of Americans interested in poverty or not would recognize.  This is not your Give Local campaign.  The day culminates in the “WIFM”, three hour NBC televised show featuring “the biggest names in film and entertainment” (wearing red noses).

And still to come this year to a state, region or town near you is the original giving local days, such as GiveMN, North Texas Giving Day, Georgia Gives Day, or Give Miami Day, to mention a handful.  Giving Tuesday 2015 will be here before you know it on December 1 – the same time your snail and electronic mailboxes will be filling up with those end-of- year solicitations, because even though the calendar tells us we have 12 months to give, almost everyone panders to the procrastinators.

I’m fatigued just writing about it, and I don’t want to hear the world “give” for quite some time to come.  Don’t tell me it is a made to order excuse.



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