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The Truth About Donor Fatigue and How to Avoid It

During and after the holidays, many nonprofits experience what’s known as donor fatigue. But donor fatigue is not so simple to define or determine.
girl frustrated by donor fatigue at her computer.

During and after the holidays, many nonprofits experience what’s known as donor fatigue. But donor fatigue is not so simple to define or determine.

This article will outline some common beliefs and misconceptions about donor fatigue followed by best practices to fight against it.

At the end, make sure to submit your questions and sign up to be notified for Give LIVE with Jeremy Dawsey-Richardson, Vice President of Programs at San Diego Rescue Mission. He and Matt Cromwell, our Head of Support and Outreach, will be live on February 12, 2019 to talk about their perspectives on donor fatigue and how to avoid it.

Common Facts and Misconceptions About Donor Fatigue

Donor fatigue is when donors become hesitant to continue giving to charities they typically donate to. There are many out there who believe donor fatigue is a myth. In fact, almost every article we came across online called donor fatigue an excuse for poor fundraising planning.

But, it’s not so much a myth as a misrepresentation of the concept. The term “donor fatigue” is misleading because it puts the burden of creating the desire to donate on the donor. On the other hand, it’s really the organization who needs to ensure they are not overwhelming their supporters while keeping them engaged.

“In the fundraising world, it might seem like our donors are like that overused water pot. We ask them to make a donation so often that might break from donor fatigue. However, donor fatigue is not a real thing. It’s an excuse. If your donors are feeling burned out from all your asks, then your asks are what—pardon my french—suck.”
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Generally, if you find your donor base is experiencing fatigue, it’s time to revisit your fundraising strategy. The only exception to the “donor fatigue as a cop-out” claim is during the holiday season and following a natural disaster or international tragedy. At those times, yes, donors are asked to give from all sides all the time from multiple organizations and individuals.

Year after year, we see the destruction of fire and hurricanes worsen. Too often people bring terror to the world in different ways all over the globe sparking a response from various organizations. In the aftermath of it all, there’s always mass-scale fundraising to recover from whatever the tragedy may have been.

“Charitable giving typically spikes after tragedy, but we’re witnessing an effect to the contrary: donor fatigue, a phenomenon where the public’s empathy exhausts itself.”

Your job is to make giving to your organization feel natural and easy, even in these times. When the rest of the world is asking for money, your organization should remain at the top of your donors’ priorities when it’s time to give.

How to Avoid Donor Fatigue

So how do you actually avoid donor fatigue? Set yourself up for success from the beginning by planning ahead and making sure you’re communicating properly with your donor base. Here are five steps you can take to avoid donor fatigue.

1) Tell Your Story and Be Transparent

In order for someone to become invested in giving to your organization, they need to know why they should care. Tell your story in multiple formats emphasizing different aspects of your cause. How do you benefit society? What’s a powerful volunteer story? What kind of impact did you make last year (that you can show with data)?

Telling the story of your nonprofit is an important factor in convincing donors to support you. If you want inspiration to get started, we have a few resources to help you out. Here’s some information on how and why to get started blogging as a nonprofit and a few blocks and templates to get you going with the new WordPress editor.

One last thing to take note of is that you need to maintain transparency in this process. Tell your donors where their money is going and what it contributed to. Be honest about your overhead as well as WHY you need the expenses. Your donors want to know where the money they’re giving goes, and how it’s used within the organization.

2) Allow Multiple Methods of Giving

It’s crucial to make sure that giving to your cause is easy for everyone. In addition to setting up online donation forms, allow for offline donations in the form of cash or check. Make sure it’s easy to give to you.

If you have your online donations set up with a form that directs your donors to a third-party website, you might lose a few before they complete the process. For a smoother donation experience, use a payment gateway that allows you to keep donors on your site while they complete their donation.

For your donors to really engage in supporting your cause, let them sign up for recurring donations! The best way to combat donor fatigue is to offer your donors a set-it-and-forget-it method of giving. Instead of becoming an extra step they need to take every so often, their donation becomes a regular expense in their budget.

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3) Plan Ahead

Overplan your annual fundraisers. End each year by planning for the next and take the holiday season into account. Do you participate in Giving Tuesday? Make sure you plan ahead for this and don’t start your Giving Tuesday campaign directly after another large-scale ask from your donors.

The same rules apply to every other kind of fundraiser. Make sure you’re not asking too often and change up the type of fundraiser you’re holding. If you need ideas, we came up with 12 campaigns you can use this year that will make online donations a lot more exciting for you and your donors.

4) Make Giving to Your Cause About Your Donors

Another method to make giving seem less like a donation and more like an investment is to make it more about your donors. There are many ways you can make giving to your organization more donor-oriented. Our favorites include honoring their loved ones with tributes, sending them handwritten notes, setting up a donor wall, providing social media sharing icons in your thank you email, etc. There are a lot of possibilities, but as long as your donors feel appreciated, they will likely want to give to your cause again.

5) Build the Relationship Through Communication

Finally, the most important piece is to always communicate with your donors. Make sure you’re avoiding these five communication mistakes and develop a strong strategy that includes multiple outlets. Not all donors communicate in the same way.

It’s important that you use all of the five steps above when trying to combat donor fatigue. A well-rounded strategy is the key to successful fundraising.

We’ll be Live

That’s how you can avoid donor fatigue in a nutshell. Below is our live discussion from Tuesday, February 12, 2019, with Jeremy Dawsey-Richardson. Leave us a comment if you have additional thoughts or questions. Look for the next Give LIVE on March 12th.

Jeremy Dawsey-Richardson has spent the majority of his career in non-profit organizations, holding various positions in churches and other local non-profits. He currently serves as the Vice President of Programs at the San Diego Rescue Mission, a faith-based nonprofit serving men, women, and children experiencing homelessness. He is passionate about helping under-served and under-resourced individuals in our communities move toward self-sufficiency through advocacy and empowerment. Jeremy was born and raised in San Diego, is an SDSU alum, and lives in Normal Heights. He loves spending time with his wife and 3 kids, and their Houdini escape-artist dog, Jethro. He enjoys cooking, baking, reading, hiking, and exercising.

Give LIVE: The Truth About Donor Fatigue and How to Avoid it

Don’t miss our Give LIVE discussion on donor fatigue and how to avoid it on Tuesday, February 12th. We’ll be joined by Jeremy Dawsey-Richardson, Vice President of Programs at the San Diego Rescue Mission.To submit your questions before show, visit the following link and submit your questions in the form at the bottom. https://givewp.com/avoid-donor-fatigue/

Posted by Give on Tuesday, February 12, 2019

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2 Responses

    1. Hi, great question!

      It’s probably best to wait on the planned Giving Program or combine it with your annual appeal. In your situation, I would use the annual appeal to ask people to pledge to give if they can’t give at that moment. It depends on the details of the Planned Giving Program. However, launching between an event and your annual appeal sounds like it may tire your donors out.

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