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How Your Nonprofit Contributes To Donor Fatigue—And How To Avoid It

9 min read
July 28, 2022
Allison Smith headshot
Allison Smith
Content Marketing Coordinator, Neon One
donor fatigue: a person sitting at their computer looking bored

If you’ve ever had a committed donor stop supporting your cause, it may be because of donor fatigue. The thing that distinguishes a fatigued donor from any other lapsed donor is that a fatigued donor feels overwhelmed or numb to the issue the nonprofit is trying to solve. Sometimes, donor fatigue is completely outside of a nonprofit’s control. But nonprofits can contribute to donor fatigue in a variety of ways through messaging decisions, engagement issues, and other societal factors.

However, data about today’s donors proves that nonprofits can prevent or address donor fatigue. Donors often can find their passion for giving again with the help of certain donor fatigue prevention tactics. In this article, we’ll take a look at what donor fatigue is, why it occurs, and what nonprofits can do to avoid it.

Is Donor Fatigue Real?

The concept of donor fatigue is a hot-button issue. Some fundraisers believe it exists, and others doubt its existence. Let’s take a look at what the data says.

Prior to COVID-19, giving trends showed a dropoff in the number of donors giving to charitable causes. Fewer donors were giving, and those that did gave larger amounts. Then the trend shifted.

GivingTuesday’s data shows that donor acquisition has gone up for the first time in years. The nonprofit sector now contains a larger-than-ever pool of small donors. This has caused an interesting shift in theories about donors’ motivations.

The increase in giving during times of crisis shows that a mass of support often comes while the latest tragedy dominates the headlines. COVID-19 is a powerful example: Even as the world wrestles with the pandemic, the nonprofit sector is now experiencing a larger volume of small donors. 

During times of crisis, the urgency and importance of giving is crystal clear. With an increase in communication and a clear understanding of donations’ impact after a major event, donors are more impassioned to give than ever. However, the issue remains that these donors don’t often continue to give once the crisis is no longer in the public eye.

This is the heart of the issue that causes donor fatigue. A moment that engages a donor doesn’t last forever. Your nonprofit must continue to evolve in order to keep constituents engaged.

What Causes Donor Fatigue?

There are many factors that can cause a donor to stop donating to your nonprofit or to nonprofit organizations altogether. Before implementing donor fatigue prevention measures, take a moment to analyze how your nonprofit’s operations may be influencing donors to leave.

Compassion Fatigue

Donor fatigue’s closely related counterpart, compassion fatigue, plays a strong role in some donors’ decision to stop giving. Compassion fatigue happens when someone becomes desensitized to problems, hardships, and struggles because of the scope of the issues at hand. Donors can be overwhelmed by all the appeals to support a cause when they don’t see progress being made. They are desensitized to the latest tragedy. 

When you hear too many heartbreaking stories without also hearing about solutions, progress, or change, the world’s problems feel unfixable. Donating to fix an unsolvable problem feels useless—that’s why demonstrating impact and providing messages of hope is so important for any nonprofit.

How to Avoid Compassion Fatigue

Sending regular impact reports is one of the best things you can do to reduce donor and compassion fatigue. A week or two after your donor’s gift, send donors an email about how their gift made a difference before asking for another donation. When a donor is excited about their past gift’s impact, they’re much more likely to give again. 

In your impact report, be sure to acknowledge and clarify the impact of small-dollar donations. This will encourage donors by showing them that any gift, regardless of size, can make a tangible difference. Also, be sure to reiterate why it matters to get involved with your nonprofit now.

Overtly Negative Messaging

Have you ever thought about how your nonprofit’s tone and messages could be affecting your donation numbers?

Think about your latest fundraising appeal. Was it about the deeply sad life a client had before your organization stepped in? Or was it about how much their life has improved since?

These two may sound quite similar—and they are—but the key difference is tone. Focusing on the positive impact of your work will help prevent donor fatigue: It shows donors that they’re making a positive impact in someone’s life even if they’re not immediately solving a huge problem. If your outreach is always negative, donors will learn to associate your nonprofit with negativity, and, in turn, they will stop engaging with you.

How to Improve Your Messaging 

Nonprofits have the opportunity to provide a different narrative that is more sustainable and engaging: One about changing the world. After all, nonprofits exist to solve problems. Tell stories of how you’re trying to address issues, the ways you’re attempting to fix things, the change you’re making, and human-centered stories about the people you’ve helped. This gives your supporters many reasons to give that go beyond guilt-based giving.

Here’s an example. A donor gives $30 to a food pantry. A couple of weeks after their gift, they receive an update that shares the story of a family that was able to get much-needed groceries because of their generosity. The donor knows that their $30 gift won’t solve food insecurity, but they still feel good about their gift because they know they helped someone in their community. When they’re asked to give again in the future, they’ll be confident that their support will make a real difference.

When donors can see how much difference a “small” donation can make, it can remind them that working to improve the life of one person is better than not striving to improve things at all.

Donor Engagement Mistakes

One of the worst things you can do is have a purely transactional relationship with your donors. 

Relationship building and a communication plan are both crucial to making your donor relationships less transactional, which reduces donor fatigue. A single donor knows they won’t be able to change the world on their own. Making them feel like part of a whole community of people who are working together to enact change makes the problems they want to solve feel less overwhelming.

Show your donor that you care about more than just their wallet. For tips on building a strategic communication plan with your donors, check out the resource below.

How to Prevent Donor Fatigue

When you notice a donor has reduced their donation frequency, lowered their donation amounts, or has been unresponsive to communication, it may be a sign that donor fatigue is setting in. There are many things you can do to keep this donor from lapsing or to re-engage donors who have already lapsed. 

In addition to updating your messaging and demonstrating your donors’ impact, here are some things you can do to prevent donors from lapsing due to donor fatigue.

Keep Your Donor Database Updated

Up-to-date donor data will help you understand your donor losses best. Tracking the outreach you’ve sent your donor, having updated contact information, and tracking their engagement will help you understand their history and identify when their reduced engagement began.

Practice Recognition and Gratitude

Something else that can spark donor fatigue is feeling underappreciated by the organization they support. Make sure you reiterate how much donations of any amount mean to your organization and to the people you serve.

Being mindful of how and when you ask a donor for money can help them feel more appreciated. For example, when a donor responds to an appeal and immediately receives another one, they may feel as though their first gift didn’t matter. Taking the time to thank them for their donation and sharing an update about how it was used will make future appeals more successful.

For more ideas on how to recognize donors in a more engaging way, check out the blog post on donor thank-you calls below.

Engage Donors in New Ways

Creative, community-based outreach can help keep your donors engaged. Something like a thank-you or update video puts faces to your nonprofit’s efforts and can make donors feel more engaged by welcoming them, sharing your vision, and relating the material impact of their gift. This can be especially effective if they are only involved with your organization by giving monetarily. 

Every year, the Islamic Scholarship Fund puts out a video about their donors’ impact. They focus on their beneficiaries and how much success they have achieved due to the reduced financial barriers needed to access things like higher education and esteemed internships. A yearly video like this keeps donors wanting to give year after year. Watch their video below!

For more guidance on how your organization can put together a valuable fundraising video, read the resource below. 

Conclusion

Whether or not you believe donor fatigue is real, these principles can help you keep your donors engaged and passionate about your cause and about giving to nonprofits in general. To prevent your donors from being overwhelmed by the scope of the problems your nonprofit is working to solve, share stories that help them understand their gift’s impact. Focus on the positive outcomes they achieved with their first gift before sending them another appeal. Look for new ways to build relationships with your supporters, and get creative with the different methods you use to send updates, share donors’ impact, and establish a sense of community in your donor base.

For more resources on how you can retain donors, check out the donor retention checklist below.

The Donor Retention Checklist

A must-read resource for any fundraiser who wants to keep their donors engaged all year. Get your copy today and start building your own donor retention plan!

Get the guide


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