Donor Fatigue: The Key To Keeping Donors

Donor Fatigue: The Key To Keeping Donors
Donors are the lifeblood to any nonprofit organization. Just as much as your nonprofit needs
passionate people to carry out its mission, it must have donors to financially support it.
However, there is a fine line between educating donors about opportunities to give and asking
for too much money too often. Donor fatigue occurs when nonprofits ask the same donors so
often for money that instead of donating more, these once loyal donors cut back or halt
donations all together.
Identifying the causes of donor fatigue will not only ensure that your nonprofit’s well deserved
donations will continue, but it can even increase the amount you receive. In this month’s Topic
of the Month we will focus on the main pitfalls that can lead to donor fatigue and will outline
steps that your organization can take to avoid losing donors to fatigue.
What Not to Do
It is important to realize that donor fatigue is the result of poor fundraising tactics. Identifying the
origin of the problem is the first step in fixing the issue and can usually be broken down into one
or more of the following causes:
 Not being personable and understanding the donor’s expectations and desires for
 Not keeping accurate records
 Asking too often for money
 Asking for money from the same donors
 Asking for too little money
 Not following up with past donors
Best Practices
Although the exact cause of donor fatigue that applies to your organization can seem hard to
detect, the solutions to eliminating donor fatigue are straight forward. The best practices in
eliminating donor fatigue can be broken down into three easy steps: being personable to
donors, maintaining good fundraising records, and following up with past donors. Below we
have broken each step down to give you a thorough understanding of the pro-active steps you
can take to revive your donor’s interests and donating habits.
1. Be Personable
Never underestimate the importance of building meaningful relationships with your
donors. By doing so you will gain a better understanding of the types of campaigns they
would be interested in giving to. Being personable and understanding your donor is
crucial towards understanding what sparks excitement in them. Donors want to give
towards causes they feel passionate about - the key word here being causes. When
donors give to your organization they are not really giving to your organization; they are
Cathedral Consulting Group, LLC
Page 1
giving to your organization’s cause. For example, a non-profit whose mission is to
donate food to those in need could start a campaign specifically aimed at donating food
to impoverished war veterans. While someone who is a war veteran may not feel
compelled to donate to the organization as a whole, they may be passionate about
helping other war veterans and therefore be very inclined to donate to this specific
campaign. Keep in mind that when a donor says to you that they do not have any more
money to give, what they are more likely saying is that they have no money they want to
give to that particular fund. Having a clear understanding of what your donor wants to
give to will help you in receiving more donations and assures the donor that you have
taken the time to understand them.
At this point, you may be asking yourself “How do I find a large number of people looking
to give to my cause?” This can seem tricky, but the great news is that along with causes
people give to people. Just because someone is not passionate about your cause does
not completely eliminate them from the donor pool. It is important for executive directors
to establish meaningful relationships with potential donors and keep in contact with
donors personally for this reason. Establish a “new donor acquisition” program in your
nonprofit if one is not already implemented to make connecting to potential donors a
priority. It is not enough to rely on personal friends and past donors for future donations.
Eventually, even the people personally close with you will feel worn down from being
asked again and again. This notion of “going to the well too often” will leave your these
same donors feeling unappreciated. Continue expanding your donor list through
meaningful and personal connections and switch off your financial requests between
donors. Repeatedly asking for donations from the same people is the number one cause
of donor fatigue which brings home the point that having a large number of donors as
being critical in fundraising.
In addition, it is important to understand that donors increasingly want to be engaged
with the organization. This can mean anything from receiving email updates to attending
special update events to volunteering. When an individual makes a donation to an
organization, they become invested in the success of the organization. Because of this,
it is important to get to know the donor and understand how (or if) they want to become
engaged with the organization. Remember that engaging with a donor needs to include
more than asking for money too. Even close personal friends to an executive director at
a nonprofit will begin to feel “used” if all they get contacted for is money when times get
tough. This is why it is so important to reach out to be people with reasons other than
accessing their check book.
2. Keep Well Maintained Records
Imagine that someone donated $100,000 to a nonprofit to help fund a new project.
However, the nonprofit does not have a good system of tracking donations and doublecounted a gift that resulted in miscalculating the total amount needed for the project by
$75,000. A week later, the organization asks the $100,000 donor for the additional
$75,000, stating they will have to call the whole project off if they do not receive this
money. Chances are good that either the person will not donate the additional funding,
will walk away from the situation feeling used and be reluctant to give in the future, or
both. This is where the importance of keeping good records comes into play. If the nonprofit in the example above would have tracked the donations, they would have known to
ask someone else and would not have lost their loyal donor. Keep in mind that asking
too often from the same donor is the number one cause in donor fatigue. For this
Cathedral Consulting Group, LLC
Page 2
reason, creating an excel file specifically for tracking donations received is an essential
component in good fund raising. The data you should record includes:
Total amount needed and received for cause: Determining the total amount
needed should be the start to any fundraising campaign and keeping track of
donations received is a necessary step going along with this. Recording and
reflecting on how much money is needed will allow you to ask for more accurate
donation requests so that you do not have to ask again for more money.
Individual donation amounts: Tracking individual donations is extremely helpful
when asking for donations in future projects. Knowing how much the individual
typically gives allows you to make donation requests in the future that are in line
with amounts they are willing and able to give.
Dates donations were received: Recording the dates individuals donated is
important both because it helps reduce the possibility that you will ask too often
for money and also serves as a reminder of when thank you letters should be
sent out. It can also allow you to track the seasonality of a donor’s giving. For
example, an organization can track if donors typically make a major gift at a time
other than year-end.
Causes/campaigns to which the donor has previously given: Remember that
people donate to causes and not organizations. Donors might be thrilled to help
fund one project but not another which makes tracking the types of things they do
support so necessary. Make every donation request matter to avoid bombarding
donors with request after request to fund projects they do not typically give to.
Otherwise, a donor could become annoyed and stop listening all together.
Making donation requests on matters they find important and impacting will
increase the likelihood they will donate and will not overwhelm them.
Dates of contact with donor (i.e. dates of letters sent, phone calls made, etc.):
This is important in keeping track of when you have sent a thank you message
and other marketing material out. If donors are flooded with information from your
organization, eventually anything they receive from you will seem like a request
for something or spam. To avoid having your non-profit’s materials being tossed
aside as “junk-mail” make sure you know when you last contacted them and
connect on a regular yet controlled basis.
By keeping well-maintained records you can help eliminate the two huge causes for
donor fatigue of asking too often and asking for too little money. Make your contact and
requests with your donor meaningful so they are inclined to always listen. It is also a
good idea to ask your donor at some point how often they want to hear from you and
receive information so that you are both on the same page.
3. Follow Up
The most common reason that people stop donating to non-profits is because they were
treated poorly after past donations. After all, nobody wants to feel like a walking ATM as
is the case when donors never hear “thank you” and instead receive more requests for
donations. The golden rule of “doing unto others what you would want done unto you” is
a phrase that you should constantly reflect on when following up with donors. Show
them the same compassion and genuine appreciation you would want to be shown if you
were in their shoes. By utilizing two basic steps, giving thanks to your donor and
showing them how their money made an impact, you can do just this. Below, the steps
are broken down for a clearer understanding.
Cathedral Consulting Group, LLC
Page 3
Give Thanks: While thanking your donor does not have to be an extravagant
matter, it is essential to the fundraising process. Your nonprofit should set aside
time in its fundraising schedule specifically to reach out to past donors and
simply thank them. The best ways to do this are a phone call or a handwritten
letter, and it is never a bad idea to do both. A common mistake that many
nonprofits make is having their thank you notes sound too much like donation
receipts. Relate your method of thanks back to the first step in improving your
fundraising and be personable! And remember, it is never a bad idea to thank
them more than once.
Demonstrate Donor Impact: People get tired of donation requests if all they hear
is what their money can do, not what their money did. Even with a donation of
$25, the donor’s money positively affected the nonprofit in some way. Speak to
this impact when thanking your donors so they know their money is not being
wasted. Creating clear and distinct individual campaigns helps create a better
understanding of where the donor’s money went and inspire them to continue to
Donor fatigue is a common problem among nonprofits but can be easily avoided by taking
preventative measures and addressing the causes as they arise. Refer to the following list as a
summarized version of what you can do to keep your donors from feeling fatigued:
 Manage your donor database well- know everything about your donor!
 Give high priority to donor recognition- utilize a whole program for donor recognition
beyond thank you letters.
 Be prepared when you go to your donors- use your well-maintained records to feel
confident you are asking for the right donation amount at the right time.
 Constantly seek new donors and diversify your funding- start a “new donor acquisition”
program specifically to recruit new donors and add diversity to your donor pool.
 Maintain personal relationships with donors- reach out to them without always asking for
Additional Resources
To obtain additional information on how you can reduce donor fatigue, please refer to the
following articles:
Kimberly Reeve is the Managing Director of the New York Office of Cathedral Consulting
Group, LLC, Virginia Zignego is a Senior Associate in the Midwest office and Stephanie
Weber is a former Intern Associate in the Midwest office.
Cathedral Consulting Group, LLC
Page 4