If you Google “donor fatigue,” many of the results will tell you it is a myth. Donor fatigue is dismissed as a concept created by lazy fundraisers to justify bad fundraising strategy. This Nonprofit Hub article is just one example that stands behind the claim that donor fatigue is a fallacy.
To some extent, this is true; if you keep people happy with your organization, they should continually give to you. Making donors feel appreciated and reaching out consistently using best practices should keep them engaged. Unfortunately for we fundraisers, things don’t always go according to plan.
Asking donors to give year after year for five, ten, 20+ years can occasionally compare to requesting funds from foundations over and over and over again. Even if you do everything right, some donors may want to turn their sights towards a new organization, an exciting new idea, or a new issue or a cause more local to them. That does not mean your organization and your issue does not have the same ongoing needs and need for funds, it is just not new to them anymore.
How can we prepare for the unpreventable?
A good rule of thumb is to always be prepared for the worst. All nonprofits should have at least three months of operating funds in the bank at all times. Unexpected circumstances will always arise, and having a financial plan in place to deal with fundraising’s curveballs is the sign of a strong organization.
In order to mitigate donor fatigue, a built in part of your development plan should be donor relations. You need to maintain a solid donor base so that the loss of one big donor has less of an impact. Make sure your donor database is robust and continually work on increasing fundraising from your donors.
Continuously encourage donors to move up to the next level of giving. Diversify donors with grants and corporate donations to make up a portion of your funding streams. Be creative, coming up with innovative ways to keep donors involved and giving year after year. And always, always, always find ways to get new donors. This should be a part of your overall fundraising strategy, as it will help fund growth and reduce the impact of the inevitable loss of donors.
One important aspect of fundraising that can mitigate donor fatigue is to be responsive to your current donors. Go the extra yard and do what the other organization is not doing. If someone calls you, whether they are a $5 donor or a $50,000 donor, call them back and give them honest, respectful answers. If they send you a letter criticizing you, address their criticisms honestly.
Let donors know you appreciate them with the occasional handwritten thank you and donor appreciation events. Segment your mailing list and see what appeals to which donors. Keep working at it constantly so they know that their donation is not just another number. Be nice and sensitive to their concerns and solicit their feedback on how you are doing.
In the end, research and use best practices and do not take any donors for granted.