Donor Retention

INCREASE RELEVANCE to Decrease Donor Fatigue

by Joshua Crowther, Executive Director Australia

Donor Fatigue: Stop blaming the donor for your mistakes. 

I’m just going to say it: There’s no such thing as donor fatigue.

Recently, I was in a meeting where a fundraiser exclaimed, “Our donors are fatigued; we are clearly communicating too much”. My response was the same as the many times I have heard a similar sentiment from database managers to CEOs… regularity isn’t the problem; it’s the relevance that matters.

The problem with the concept of donor fatigue is that it blames the donor for being tired rather than the organisation that’s communicating with them. Donors love receiving communication that affirms the impact of their giving, but they don’t like irrelevant communication.

If a relationship isn’t working, it’s vital we discover why. If a donor is feeling disconnected, what made them feel that way? Perhaps you:

• Talked constantly about yourself as an organisation rather than connecting them with their impact?

• Got bored with your own brand and forgot why they partnered in the first place?

• We’re too busy to thank them, even though they had just entrusted you with their investment?

Ultimately, if we get serious as fundraisers, we need to believe that donor fatigue doesn’t exist – it’s just our poor practice dressed up as somebody else’s fault.

Let’s see it from this perspective: They’re not fatigued by their own doing, but we’ve worn them out, and the responsibility sits with us for breaking that connection.

Although frequency is often blamed for fatigue, we’ve known organisations that have sent multiple emails every day – and some have the lowest unsubscribe rates, while others have had scores of donors unsubscribing from their annual appeal because they were sending too much.

Is it too much to receive one fundraising appeal a year? No. Believing this concept is more likely if there’s an irrelevant message, or if the donor completely forgot about that cause due to the length of time between their interactions.

To keep your message relevant, consider the following:

1. Deliver on your value proposition

Are you delivering on what they signed up for? If you say you’re going to deliver weekly good news, make sure that every week you deliver good news. If you say you’re going to give a monthly report on where their donation goes, make sure you do that – and, if you do, know that this communication for the most part is well received.

2. Frequency

Frequent communication is important and positive. Have an overarching communication plan that takes into account every individual communication piece from your organisation and how it fits into your overall strategy. Also consider messages coming from outside your department – receipting, local updates, newsletters, CEO emails – because they all count in a donor experience. Make sure you have them covered.

3. Squeaky wheels should not dictate your strategy

Don’t let one complaint, or one staff member with a strong opinion, determine what’s working and what’s not. One complaint doesn’t equal donor fatigue. If your fundraising and ministry is growing, then stay committed to your outcomes and allow for individuals who are just having a bad day.

Collectively, can we agree to not blame the donors anymore, or accuse them of being fatigued? Let’s take responsibility and make sure we’re giving them what they need to stay connected.  


More Insights from Dunham+Company: Four Things To Do To Keep From Being Too Formulaic

Ready to take the next step? Dunham+Company is here to help your organization have more impact and establish deeper relationships with your donors and supporters. Contact Bethany Cranfield at 469-454-0100 to get more information. 

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