5 Strategies to Combat Donor Fatigue and Attract New Donors

Donors once active in your small nonprofit have stopped giving as much and as often over the years. Worried, you review the tape, searching for clues about what’s happening. You’ve been sending out charitable appeals to which they’ve historically responded, so that can’t be it. Maybe it’s inflation? Indeed, just about everyone is evaluating their finances. But then you realize this has been going on for a while, and your heart sinks.

Donor fatigue.

It’s a phrase that sounds as dire as quicksand.

Sun Tzu once wrote, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

The Art of War may seem an odd source of inspiration for people in the business of making the world a better place, but there’s absolute truth in Sun Tzu’s statement if we think of donor fatigue as the challenge.

What is Donor Fatigue?

On the surface, donor fatigue refers to when someone is tired of being asked for donations. Look a little deeper and you’ll find there’s more to a fatigued donor than that.

Says CJ Orr in his NonProfitPro article, Fending Off Donor Fatigue With Innovation

“Maybe their financial situation has changed. Maybe they’re not inspired by the organization’s programs anymore. Maybe they feel like they’ve done their part. When you spot such fatigue, it’s time to tailor your ideas—with innovation—to bring donors back to the table at the level of enthusiasm and investment that helped your organization to thrive.”
While in some cases the problem is a change in circumstance, for many people donor fatigue is an engagement problem. Don’t forget to also look at the humans working to help your cause in your own organization. Are they experiencing burnout or, as this interesting article from Lily Family School of Philanthropy by Kristi Howard-Shultz calls it, fundraiser fatigue?

As you’ll see below, both questions dovetail with Sun Tzu’s advice to seek to understand the challenge and yourself.

Remedy Donor Fatigue With These 5 Strategies

Number 1

Get personal.

By approaching donors as individuals and not part of a homogenous group, you’ll make them feel seen and show them the value of your organization in their lives. Duke Haddad, Ed.D says:

“Your job (as fundraisers) is not to take money alone from donors but to give donors purpose. These individuals must find meaning in their lives. The best development professionals are engagement experts. Seek to build a robust gratitude program, build a donor relationship strategy and establish a progress plan. At its core, the donor process is obtaining value for organizational value.”

To that end, you need to get to know them. Call them or chat with them in person and send out donor surveys. This is also where segmenting your donor base and creating donor journeys come in. We’ll go into both in more depth in future articles, but for now, here are a couple of resources—How to segment nonprofit donors: identity vs. identification by Claire Axelrad and our own Robert Friend’s webinar on donor journeys and nonprofit storytelling.

Number 2

Reinvigorate passion with non-fundraising community outreach events.

Being asked for help feels excellent, and that positive feeling grows when you’re helping a cause important to you (it’s science!). A good example is one of Eventgroove’s conservation customers, Trout Unlimited.

As part of their programming, Trout Unlimited hosts educational conservation hikes, waterway cleanups, kids’ fishing days, fly tying and intro to fly fishing classes, and tree planting/tailgate events. These events are run by members with relevant expertise and help the organization introduce itself to new potential donors. If your nonprofit doesn’t offer programming, consider outsourcing. One idea is to partner with a yoga/meditation studio, cooking school, or another helpful or exciting experience for a sponsored class and invite donors to attend as a thank you.

Number 3

Thank your current donors and illustrate their impact.

States the Catholic Funding Guide:

“From the donor’s perspective, frequent asks can be demoralizing. When they receive repeated requests for money without hearing about the difference their gift makes, they may begin to feel that their gifts do not make a difference and are not appreciated.”

Express your gratitude to supporters and show them the different ways their gifts positively affect your cause. Remember to be specific so that the impact is relatable!

Number 4

Activate donors as advocates.

Generally, people who have supported your cause in the past believe in what you do. So, instead of asking them for money, activate them as co-fundraisers through peer-to-peer. Peer-to-peer is a form of fundraising in which supporters raise money for your cause. A good example is almost any “walk for a cure” event, which is essentially an “a-thon” fundraising campaign with a peer-to-peer component. Participants promote their involvement—and ask for donations—through social media.

Examples of a peer-to-peer event include anything from partnering with a local gym for a treadmill relay, miles of trails or neighborhood streets cleaned, mountain climbing, and playing video games to challenges like FebFast, in which participants give up junk food to support disadvantaged youth. The benefits of this fundraising approach are significant—your organization can simultaneously expand its reach through existing member networks while engaging with new potential donors where they are! Doug Agee, Online Community Manager of Trout Unlimited, agrees:

“The Eventgroove peer-to-peer tool provides TU Chapters a much broader audience reach and potential for new members than our chapter websites and social media pages alone. With this tool, participating members become chapter advocates by asking their friends and family for support, collecting donations virtually, and sharing the story of local TU in their community and all the good we do.”

Learn about peer-to-peer and how to get started in our article on Nonprofit Tech for Good, Why Your Nonprofit Needs Peer-to-peer Fundraising (and How to Use It).

Number 5

Galvanize your donor base through volunteer opportunities.

This smart tactic comes from Amy Eisenstein:

“Probably your number one engagement and cultivation tool is volunteering. If you can attract individuals to volunteer for your cause, they are more likely to be committed to the mission and your organization. Although supervising volunteers can be a bit like herding cats, it’s well worth the effort.”

By its very hands-on nature, inviting donors to volunteer rekindles enthusiasm for your organization’s excellent work. Not to mention, volunteer opportunities are a great way to introduce your organization to people beyond its network. Get more great ideas in Amy’s article, 27 Ways to Cultivate Donors and Build Deep, Lasting Relationships.

It’s been posited that donor fatigue is a myth. Whatever you call it, as you can see in the above strategies, the paths you may take to address the issue lead to a similar answer. To alleviate donor fatigue, charitable organizations should develop new ways to reengage with supporters, cultivate relationships, and look for where you’re not speaking to your donor’s needs. If they’re tired of being asked or unable to donate money, invite them to participate with your organization in other ways. Utilize new best practices, such as hybrid fundraising and peer-to-peer events. In short, arm yourself with knowledge of your donors, evaluate and take action to make change (where you can—it’s not easy!) to meet donors where they are.

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