5 reasons the Myth of “Donor Fatigue” Persists

Donor fatigue.

Steven Screen wrote this blog on the myths of “donor fatigue” more than a year ago. And I think the message is more relevant now, than ever. Because right now, we know that donors are wanting to make a positive difference in the world. So, it’s important to keep a close eye on your results and let your data tell you when to pump the brakes on your fundraising.

In a nutshell, let your donors decide when they want to stop giving. Don’t make that important decision for them.

Enjoy Steven’s blog!

– Jonathan

Just a super quick reminder that “donor fatigue” – that mythical beast that haunts the futures of Fundraisers everywhere – doesn’t exist.

I’m neck-deep in donor data and fundraising performance all the time. And “donor fatigue” simply doesn’t exist for 99.9% of nonprofits.

But this mythical creature still affects the behavior of too many fundraisers. And without question, the fear of “donor fatigue” causes organizations to raise less money and do less good.

This is such a brutal fact that I’m going to repeat it: the fear of something that doesn’t exist – “donor fatigue” – causes hundreds of thousands of nonprofits to raise less money and do less good.

For the vast majority of nonprofits, letting “donor fatigue” affect your behavior is like not going outside because you might get hit by lightning.

I’ve identified 5 reasons that “donor fatigue” continues to haunt our sector and lower revenue. If you know of others, please share them with us. Here are my five:

  1. The complaints of a donor or three, occasionally a Board member, that your organization is asking for money too often.
  2. The fear that comes from thinking those complainers might speak for all your donors.
  3. The awkwardness some people feel about asking for money in the first place.
  4. The lack of understanding that nonprofits can be communicating to their donors far more often than they think.
  5. “Donor fatigue” is sometimes used as a scapegoat for bad fundraising. If an appeal or newsletter or campaign doesn’t work well, that elusive “donor fatigue” is blamed. Then no one has to feel bad, take responsibility, or learn from the mistake.

The first four items above are all real things. They matter.

But complaints and fears should not matter as much as the hundreds and thousands of additional gifts that will come in when you communicate with your donors more often about things they care about.

Look, if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know we believe in Asking more – because all our data shows that it works like crazy, with almost zero negative consequences.

One of the reasons Better Fundraising has been so successful is that we show our clients how organizations their size are communicating to their donors more often and raising a lot more money doing it. (And of course there are other things an organization has to do well, but Asking more is a one of the biggest levers you can pull.)

So next time someone brings up “donor fatigue,” tell them that “donor fatigue” isn’t the problem. And don’t let “donor fatigue” be used as a reason or excuse in your organization.

Acknowledge the fear that caused “donor fatigue” to rear its hideous head, then move forward.

You owe it to your beneficiaries.

Your donors will thank you for it with increased engagement and giving.

You’ll love raising more money and getting to do more good


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

6 comments on “5 reasons the Myth of “Donor Fatigue” Persists

  1. Great repost, Steven. Thank you for the reminder to ‘listen to the right voices’ (donors), rather than those who may be projecting their fears, concerns, or self-limitations around the issue of fundraising. Perfect timing and a masterful message.

  2. I’m puzzled by the assertion in this piece that there are “almost zero negative consequences.”

    I’m guessing that we all can think of organizations we no longer support due to their taking a shotgun approach to direct mail or email fundraising, but those negative consequences are impossible to track and measure.

    And, just as it’s true in the direct mail world, it may be true in the email world that this shotgun approach works in the same way that cold-calling works – it’s a numbers game.

    I’d be curious to learn which organizations are most successful in generating bequeaths, which I’m guessing is the largest single donation by the average donor in their lifetime.

    My wife and I have two organizations listed in our wills – organizations that shun the shotgun strategy and favor an entertaining and informative mix of tasteful communication about missions we care about.

    As a marketing colleague once observed, it’s all about sensing “when to squeeze and when to ease.”

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