What the Heck is Donor Fatigue?

In recent months we’ve been asked dozens of times by reporters, clients and volunteer leaders about phenomenon of “donor fatigue”.

This theory espouses that there are so many fundraising projects underway that donors are stretched to capacity and can no longer support them all.  In essence, that donors are “worn out” from too much giving or that the philanthropic pie is too small.

The fact of the matter is there is no such thing as “donor fatigue”.  Generous people do not get tired of giving and the philanthropic pie continues to grow, and has grown by 1,800% since 1964.

However, project specific “donor apathy” is a very real problem.

Donor apathy results from organizations launching fundraising efforts for ill-conceived projects, with poorly developed cases for support and soliciting gifts from people with whom they have weak or no previous relationships.  In these cases donors don’t know the organization, are not excited about the projects and, thus, don’t support them in word or deed.

In order to spare the feelings of the solicitor, these donors may politely say that they are supporting other campaigns, or have other commitments and cannot give.  But they are not “fatigued” of giving and they have not likely given away all of their money.  What they are saying is that they are not inspired to give to that project – thus apathetic.

But most organizations can’t accept this reality and must find something, or someone, else to blame – enter the concept of “donor fatigue”.  It can’t be us or our project that they don’t want to support so they must be overextended philanthropically.

I would give good odds that those same donors, if approached by an organization they considered one of their top philanthropic priorities, would not be fatigued at all, but would give generously.

Here is our prescription for eradicating “donor fatigue”.

  • Take the time to plan your campaign.
  • Conduct a good study to assess donor interest.
  • Develop a strong case for support that parallels donor interest.
  • Make the effort to cultivate and build real and strong relationships with prospective donors BEFORE launching a campaign.