Donor Fatigue?

We hear a lot about “donor fatigue” these days.  It has become a great excuse to sit pat and not move forward.  The thing is, in our experience, it really does not exist.  Donors do not get tired of giving, they get tired of being asked to give to organizations that they are not closely connected to and for projects that are uninspiring.

The truth of the matter is that “donor fatigue” – which often manifests itself is such statements as “I’ve got too many commitments”, “there are too many campaigns”, “we need to find new donors to give our traditional donors a break” – is nothing more than a polite way for a donor to say “I’m not interested in your project.”  It is the equivalent of the girl turning down a date because she has to stay home to wash her hair.  Donor fatigue is a myth, but donor apathy is a reality. A donor who is apathetic about an organization or project for which there are being solicited is likely to be misdiagnosed as “tired of giving”, when the real issue is that they have not been properly engaged in the life of the organization or the project.

How can I so confidently dismiss the pandemic and common accepted condition of donor fatigue?  Well, in the course of nearly 20 years working in a fund raising consulting firm, I have had the opportunity to witness, first hand, how donors react to different organizations approaching them.  What I have seen time and time again is donors who will, during a feasibility interview or even a solicitation, indicate that they are “overcommitted”, “fatigued”, etc., only to, a short time later, have a completely opposite reaction to another organization and project and commit to a significant contribution.  Think about your own experiences and I’ll bet you will find examples of this as well.   If “donor fatigue” were the real problem it would apply to all projects and organizations.  But it does not.  It is selective.  And it selects organizations that fail to do good cultivation and education before they reach the solicitation stage.  So, let’s focus on eliminating “donor apathy” and if we do, I’ll bet we see the eradication of the “donor fatigue” as well.