Early signs of donor fatigue include:
- Reduced frequency of donations
- Smaller donation amounts
- Unresponsiveness to calls or letters
First, it helps to understand the reasons for donor fatigue. There are some circumstances, like a change in the donor’s own financial situation, that you can do little about. In most cases, however, donor disengagement can be resolved with a healthy dose of sincere gratitude and a focus on improved communications.
Let’s take a closer look at some ideas to minimize and prevent donor fatigue for your nonprofit.
Identify Significant Donors
All donors are important, but when fatigue sets in with your VIP donors it can become costly. Just like at for-profit companies where the entire staff knows who the big customers are, everyone on your team should know exactly who your biggest donors are and be on the lookout for signs of donor fatigue (see above).
Express Sincere Gratitude
There's a big difference between thanking your donors and being truly thankful for your donor contributions. Most nonprofits do a pretty good of saying thank you, but it's important to keep in mind the significance of sincere gratitude.
Sincere gratitude can be expressed by saying "thank you" along with a friendly two-handed handshake and deliberate eye contact. It may be accomplished over a casual lunch or through a gift of a small personalized item for their office. Handwritten notes always make a bigger impact than a printed or emailed letter. Donors need to know how valuable they are and how much you personally appreciate their involvement.
Note: Following a "thank you" with a request for more money is one of the most insincere forms of gratitude. Avoid that at all costs.
Avoid Undue Pressure
It is frustrating for donors when they feel constantly pressured to donate money. Donors do not want to feel like an ATM, so pick your battles carefully. Don’t ask every large donor to donate to every event. Avoid overly dramatic language that may communicate pressure unnecessarily. Every fundraiser is not “the most critical, vital, and important event of the year!” Save your dramatic statements for if and when it REALLY IS necessary.
Host 'Just for Fun' Events
Consider scheduling a few fun events throughout the year that aren't singularly focused on fundraising. Some nonprofit organizations have become so corporate and business-like they have forgotten they can have fun and still be very good at what they do.
Volunteer and donor appreciation events are terrific ways to get donors to loosen up so you can engage key stakeholders on a personal level and get to know them. Try sponsoring a few informal happy hours or networking events throughout the year.
How Are They Making a Difference
Nonprofits are pretty good at “selling” the need for donations, but sometimes neglect to show donors how their contributions are actually making an impact. Stating you reached your $50,000 goal doesn't explain how many people were assisted or what will specifically be accomplished.
Try to break down your mission into real dollars and make it relatable for the donor. Tell donors how many people were helped, and if possible, give them real life, local examples.
There is always time at a fundraising gala or auction to take a few moments to recognize your VIP donors. Try to make them feel like more than just “big donors”
Use verbiage like:
- “Supporters of our mission”
- “Active members"
- “Key players on our team”
Make Them Feel Like Part of Your Organization
Major donors should be active participants in your mission and not just resources for cash. Encourage them to get involved in your organization. There are several simple ways to do this.
- Invite them to come to a board meeting.
- Have them take an annual survey.
- Ask them for suggestions and fundraising ideas.
- Keep them informed with a newsletter.
- Contact them following events to ask for their feedback.
Avoid asking for a donation every time you are in contact with a donor. If you do, they will put their guard up each time you call them or stop into see them. Find reasons to contact them without asking for something. Take the time to understand their personal interests and use this knowledge to stay connected:
- Forward a newspaper or magazine article they may find interesting.
- Drop off tickets to a play or baseball game.
- Send a birthday card is a simple way to stay connected.
Keeping good records is more than just a list of who donated what and when. You should keep records on your larger donors that detail:
- Preferred method of contact (phone, email, text, etc.)
- Family members
- What types of events they enjoy the most
You can battle donor fatigue by giving donors other ways to donate. Do they have a product or service they can donate instead of cash? Perhaps you can get them to partner with another business to underwrite a specific aspect of the event.
Another popular option is to have a donor underwrite the cost of a vacation or experience for a live or silent auction. Donor sponsored travel is a good option for businesses who want recognition at your event but don't have a product or service they can donate (Examples: Lawyers, Doctors, Realtors, etc.). Donors will often see their original donation amplified when a vacation package sells multiple times, turning their $2,500 donation into a $7,000 profit for the cause. Getting creative with your contributors help you be better equipped to prevent donor fatigue.
Encourage Donors to Bring Guests
Every time you host a special event you should be encouraging your supporters to bring guests; this is especially true for your major donors. By making a personal appeal to ask your biggest donors to bring guests, you accomplish several things:
- They will appreciate that you approached them. It shows you think they are important.
- You will expand the network of people being exposed to your message and your event.
- Recognizing donors with family, friends and colleagues in attendance will elevate the personal meaning of that recognition.
Patronize Donor Businesses
Whenever possible, encourage your team to become regular visitors of the businesses who support you most. That doesn't mean they have to become regular customers, but simply stopping by to say a quick hello to management or key staff can have a lasting impression. Every personal touch counts, and business professionals will notice the extra effort you put in. It is another piece of recognition and appreciation many organizations simply miss.
Annual or Monthly Memberships
Rather than constantly asking for donations, create an annual or monthly “membership program" where donors can sign up to donate a set amount every month or quarter. Any wine club members out there? This is a similar concept. Add value to their sponsorship, give them incentives to make their membership worthwhile by allowing use of your conference rooms, member monthly luncheons, etc.
Organizations will typically set up membership levels with various benefits, such as admission to your most popular events or various forms of recognition (Example: Gold members will get their names on a tile in the foyer of our new building!). Create plaques at the end of the year to recognize them as a “1 Year Gold Member” or “3 Year Silver Member”.
Keep It FreshWork on keeping your organization relevant, vital and always on the move. Don’t get stuck doing the same events the same way year after year. Try to keep things fresh by doing something unique and unexpected once in a while. Keep recruiting new people and volunteers into your organization and always be open to creative ways to gain interest and raise funds.
Think Outside the BoxMost nonprofits rely on some sort of annual auction fundraiser. Think out of the box with yours. Rather than offering the same dinner, beauty salon and mechanic gift certificates, create experiential packages in your local community. Ask local law enforcement if they would be willing to donate a ride-along. See if the local baseball team will allow a high bidder to throw out the first pitch. Include a once-in-a-lifetime travel package that will draw guests and create buzz around your event.
Investigate Donor FatigueIf you notice donor fatigue within your organization, it could be symptomatic of a bigger issue. When you lose a donor to suspected donor fatigue, don't panic. Instead, let it arouse your curiosity. Investigate the details of the situation to find out if there was anything in particular you and your organization may have done, or not done, to cause it.
Reach out to departing donors and have a sincere conversation. Take the opportunity to understand exactly what it was that made them leave. They will feel valued for having been consulted and ultimately depart (or not!) with a more positive perception of your organization.
At the very least, ask them to fill out an honest survey about how they feel about your organization. You may just find some simple answers to help you prevent this from happening in the future.
While you may not be able to prevent all your supporters from losing interest over time, there are a few simple steps that can help keep them actively engaged and you well-informed about the health of your donor base. Start with sincere gratitude and improved communication as they are at the foundation of fighting donor fatigue within your organization.