Can we finally dispense with the idea of donor fatigue?
Like that one leaf on an otherwise perfect green lawn, donor fatigue is an idea that just keeps blowing back into our world.
And I wish we could kick it to the curb, today.
A quick story: years ago, I was at a meeting, representing my organization at a gathering of many other organizations with a community fundraising goal. We were being advised by a well-respected fundraising firm.
As I sat and listened, I heard one of their representatives talk about what a problem donor fatigue is. Perhaps we should consider communicating less. Certainly, ask less.
I don’t mind telling you that I tried hard not to roll my eyes and make a scene. (I did speak up. Couldn’t hold it in.)
Let’s not blame donors for our fundraising fails.
If the answer we keep getting when we ask for their help is “no”, there is obviously a problem. And not every person is your target donor. But it’s far too easy to assume people are tired – not that we’re being tiresome.
We – human beings – give because we’re built to do so. Thank goodness for that. Giving or helping someone, makes us feel good.
A little science from a non-scientist.
When we give to charity or help someone, scientists have seen that a particular part of our brain – the mid-brain – lights up. Our body releases endorphins. These react with opiate receptors in our brains. And we feel good.
Then our brain triggers production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter. Serotonin, quite simply, makes us feel happy.
So why don’t people give more?
If we like to give, why don’t people do more of it?
It could be we’re standing in their way. Bad donor care, poor communications, a case that’s little more than “send money” … bad fundraising needs to shoulder a good part of the blame.
In other words, they’re not tired of giving, they’re tired of us.
Before you look for external reasons for bad results, take a hard look at your program.
- Have you made a clear, compelling case for why someone should give?
- Is the ask matched to the donor’s ability to give?
- Is there a disconnect between the messaging in your acquisition communication and what happens next?
- Do your donors know they’re needed and appreciated?
- Do they know what they accomplished with their gift?
- Do they feel known by your organization?
- Is it satisfying to give to your organization?
How to start a warm glow and keep it going
Let’s start at the beginning of a donor’s interaction with you. Did you make a clear and urgent case for the need? “We need money” is not satisfying. “With just $50, you can provide a family with lunch for a week” is so much better. Make it simple and tangible. (And please, I’m begging you, your annual budget goals are not sufficient reason to give!)
Provide a real problem. Show how the donor can fix or help fix it. Make it easy to do so. (Forms that are easily filled out, online giving processes that make sense to someone who isn’t you…)
So this donor gives. Hooray! What next?
We can hope that giving made them feel good. They did something to help someone. But is that it? The end of the feeling?
Thank them well
That’s where you come in. You can keep that going by reminding them of the good they’ve done and thanking them well. Don’t waste your thank you on organizational puffery. You made your case, they agreed.
You can remind them how it felt to help by reminding them how their generosity will help. Bring them as close to doing it themselves as you can. No superhero cape for your organization; hand it over to the lovely donor.
Don’t shy away from emotion here. If you’re a fundraiser, nothing you have to say to your donor should skimp on emotion. This isn’t a business relationship!
So shower them with gratitude. It costs you nothing to feel those feels and share them. And it will likely make you happier, too.
Show them what they did
If you make it a habit to report back to them, you can show them what they accomplished and reignite those happy feelings. This is where a good donor newsletter can be magic.
This is not a corporate report card. Have your organization step to the side and shine the spotlight on the donor and the people (or animals, etc.) she helped. Donor newsletters don’t have to be fancy. They do need to be heartfelt. Done right, they can be a gift to the donor. One she’ll want to reciprocate.
Donor newsletters can also build trust. “They said if I sent money, they could do this. And they did it!” If you want an ongoing donor relationship, trust is critical.
Make it a two-way relationship
Seeking feedback is an important, and overlooked, way to build donor relationships. Wondering what donors think of your work? Want to know how they’d prefer to be contacted? Or how they’d rather be addressed? Do you want to know what their priorities are?
Here’s more information on donor surveys for you.
Don’t make it difficult. Few people will be eager to dive into a five-page survey. But keep the conversation going by asking for feedback in little bites all along the way. You’ve asked them to buy in to your mission and they have. Shouldn’t they have some say?
Fundraising staff should not be hiding from the public. If a donor can’t go to your website and find your contact information, fix that. A frustrated donor who wants to talk to you is a donor who cares enough to want to talk to you. And a happy donor will make your day!
So don’t hide. Your job is to connect donors to your mission.
Ask again with sensitivity
If your donor communications are almost all about asking, and not about involving the donor in the mission, asking again will feel funny. And it can easily feel tiresome to a donor. So don’t skip the donor care!
But, don’t skip asking again, either. You can do this with sensitivity. Acknowledge past generosity and thank the donor again. Let them know YOU know how kind they are. Then ask – if it’s possible at this time for them – if they would give again.
Donor fatigue can be a handy excuse. But you don’t need it. We human beings are giving creatures. Let’s give people a reason to give – and feel good about it.