Shadow Boxing with “Donor Fatigue”

Shadow Boxing with “Donor Fatigue”

Often at forums locally and overseas, I get asked about ways to address ‘Donor Fatigue’.

I believe there really is nothing called Donor Fatigue. It is a diplomatic way the media devised for saying that donors are fed up with the incessant appeals by charities! Many fundraisers have jumped on that band-wagon and used it as a way of justifying poor performance in taking care of the supporters of their cause.

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the reasons that motivate a person or decision makers in organisations to become a donor or supporter :

  1. the urgency of need  – the recent response to the Japanese and Asian Tsunamis and SARS before that by the citizens of Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong  are very apt example of how the urgency of the situation moves people to take positive action. Why is your cause vital and without the services your organisation delivers, what will be the consequences to our community?
  2. a clear request –  in surveys done across many countries and cultures, one of the main reasons why people do not give is always found to be, ‘ because they were never asked’ and when asked ‘the ask was not clear enough to help them respond”
  3. a relationship with the cause – reading letters in the forum and online support by notable supporters of charities and religious organisation is an indication of how a cause can catch the imagination of people, who will not allow the misdoings or lack of judgement by people associated with the cause to take away from the vision for the cause.
  4. being part of the solution – my 25 years of experience with building donor relationships, have shown that donors have had enough of the-‘we have a problem and hence we need your support’ appeal. They are looking for how they can be part of the solution, rather than being asked to fix a problem.

Though not exhaustive, I hope this list provides an insight into the donor’s psyche.

Hence my appeal to fundraisers is to stop worrying about this concept of donor fatigue and focus on how we can build ‘donor endurance’. Engage people in a manner where they are not asked to sacrifice but are provided with a meaningful opportunity to impact our community.  This helps to convert the vicious-cycle of donor attrition into a virtuous-cycle of donor referrals.

In an environment where there is a proliferation of causes and fundraising methodologies, organisations successful in fundraising and resource mobilisation don’t just motivate people, they inspiring them to take action. They invest energy in the early stages as well as throughout the relationship by engaging people with the cause, building trust and making them feel part of the solution. This is reflected in their online and offline communications, be it their appeals , acknowledgement receipts, thank you letters as well as their personal contacts with current and potential donors.

Another key component is to have a spirit of enterprise and innovation in fundraising methods.  Alfred Edward Perlman was quoted in the NewYork times way back on 5 july 1958 – “After you’ve done a thing the same way for two years, look it over carefully. After five years, look at it with suspicion. And after ten years, throw it away and start all over.”

If this holds true, it is high time we look very carefully or with suspicion at some of our fundraising methods and in the case of flag-days/ street collection, may be its time to throw it away! Not only is it an inefficient way of raising funds in most cases, more importantly, it does not help the donor or the non-profit organisation to get to know each other and develop a relationship.

We need to uplift our supporters such that they get an addiction for our cause, then we will not have to worry about ‘donor fatigue’.

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