Fighting Donor Fatigue - One Donor At A Time

There's quite a bit of chatter about donor fatigue:

Donor fatigue is a phenomenon in which people no longer give to charities, although they have donated in the past. There are a number of causes for donor fatigue, including pressure to donate, overstretched budgets, and frustration with mis-managed charities and donation campaigns. Many charities work hard to avoid donor fatigue, since it negatively impacts their collected funds for the year. There are an assortment of ways in which donor fatigue can be avoided by both donors and charities.

The most benign cause of donor fatigue is simply budget exhaustion. Many people who engage in charitable giving set aside a specific budget every year for this purpose. When the budget runs out, they are no longer able to donate. Events like natural disasters can wipe out the donation budget of a charitable household, as was the case in 2005 when people donated to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Rita followed hard on Katrina's heels. Donors wanted to help, but they did not have the financial wherewithal to do so.

Smaller regionally based charities often suffer from donor fatigue after major disasters. In the United States, for example, many people donated to victim's funds after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Although their funds certainly helped someone somewhere, their donations took money out of their communities, and many small charities reported a downturn in donations for the fourth quarter of 2001 as a result.

This is completely understandable. Let's take a look at the past several months:

  • Superstorm Sandy wiped out the East Coast
  • Tragic mass murder in Newtown, CT on the heels of other mass shootings
  • Massive uncertainty about the federal budget aka "fiscal cliff"
  • The "Great Recession" boomeranging through many of our communities (like Pittsburgh)
  • The traditional giving needs associated with the holiday season - toy programs, etc
  • The expenses of winter - heating bills, coat, credit card bills from the holidays, etc.
  • etc
The truth is that donor fatigue is a real thing and it makes sense. As the head cheerleader of a community level organization, I'm struggling to reenergize a weary group of donors to keep giving. And giving. And giving.
Because donor fatigue is simply something we have to push through - much like the fatigue that urges us to skip our workout or eat a fast-food meal for convenience. We are on overwhelm perhaps and our resources are stretched. 
But our neighbors need us. Here in Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia City Paper ran an instructive article on how the past year's events have impacted the regional food pantries - it is harsh and ugly and people are hungry. There's not enough food, there's not as much food as a few months ago. 
My challenge to you - how can you personally power through the fatigue and do something to help? 
I am trying to provide simple one-time opportunities to get involved - one blog post, one trip to pick up tote bags, one hour of an afternoon to select a blog theme. We also try to keep bigger asks manageable - plan a food and tote drive for March, but get it on the calendar now. The immediate commitment is simple and there's plenty of time to work out the details. 


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