Donor Fatigue sounds like a scary thing and that’s because it is a nightmare many charities are waking up to.
In fact, a few of our readers sent in questions about donor fatigue and how to combat it. What is donor fatigue, you ask? Jamie Veltri, Vice President of Acquisition and Media, identifies donor fatigue as the phenomenon when “donors discontinue their giving or become jaded and don’t give as much or as often as they have historically.”
While donor fatigue affects your entire pipeline from new donor acquisition to major or planned gift donors, it often infects your most committed donor groups, like multi-year donors. Since keeping your transformational donors engaged is a top priority, we pulled together several of our fundraising experts to discuss the causes of donor fatigue and brainstorm the best ways to wake up your sleepy donor file.
Why do committed donors become fatigued?
Donor fatigue can permeate your entire donor file. Not only with the new donors you’re trying to persuade into a second-year commitment, but also with sustaining and mid-level donors. Our panel of fundraising experts identified four reasons why donors fatigue.
- Your donor receives too many communications from others. Chris Griffin, Senior Strategic Planner, encourages fundraisers to realize that there is a lot more competition for your donor’s attention today. Most donors support multiple organizations through multiple channels. Furthermore, the commercial organizations they interact with send a steady stream of messages to them as well. It can become overwhelming.
- Your donor receives too many communications from you. Be sure to listen to her frequency and channel preferences. “When donor requests are ignored and she is contacted through all channels regardless of her stated preferences — that definitely contributes to donor fatigue,” says Jamie.
- Your donor doesn’t know how her gift made a difference. It’s very important to report back on the impact your donor’s gift made. Donor stewardship has to be a part of your strategic plan and it doesn’t have to be expensive. It’s important to have relevant communications that constantly report back to the donor the impact her gift is making.
- Your creative doesn’t resonate with the donor anymore. “Continue to test your campaign creative packages so your donors have a fresh experience every time,” recommends Angie MacAlpine, Creative Director. “We don't want our donors to have a transactional relationship with our clients. We want them to feel bonded to the charity in a meaningful way. One of the best ways to do this is to find ways to improve your creative with each communication.”
What are the key indicators of donor fatigue?
The key metric in discovering donor fatigue is when retention as a whole for the file starts to decline, particularly with extremely loyal donor groups like multi-year donors. Jason Wood, Vice President of Digital Business Development, adds, “If a particular fundraising effort is not performing to the same level it was with that same group of donors in previous years, that is an indication of fatigue.”
While donor retention is the primary indicator of donor fatigue, there are other metrics to keep in mind:
- “Generational donor trends are changing, which can make it difficult to pinpoint donor fatigue,” says Senior Vice President of Donor Engagement Team, Kurt Worrell. The overall trend in the nonprofit industry is that the number of donors is reducing, but donors are giving more so it hasn’t impacted dollars yet. It is complex to identify what’s donor fatigue versus what’s trends with the changing demographic, knowing that the next generation of donors isn’t the same as the greatest generation.
- One metric outside of gift ROI that indicates donor fatigue is returning website visitors. Jason asks, “Are your donors responding to your emails or social posts and coming back to your site? If fewer people are returning to your website, it might be time for fresh content like a new impact story.” Note: It’s important to look at the count of repeat visitors, not the percentage against new visitors. As your website traffic grows, you may see a decrease in percentage of repeat traffic while the actual count of repeat visitors increases.
- If you utilize telephone as a fundraising channel, declining answer rates can also indicate donor fatigue. Kurt, our resident phone expert notes, “Everyone has caller ID. And most charities are reaching their donors on their cell phones. If your donor sees the same number coming through again and again, she’ll ignore it.” It’s important to meter our communications consistent with donor preferences and giving patterns.
- Another sign of donor fatigue is an increase in the number of donors who are opting out of communications. Chris indicates that the signs of donor fatigue are clear: “Whether the opt-out is online or offline, or your donors are requesting to reduce their frequency of contact from you.” If your donors are all suddenly opting out, chances are it’s because they are fatigued.
But perhaps your organization isn’t experiencing donor fatigue. There can be other reasons why it appears that your donors are pulling away.
- Sector versus Organizational Fatigue. It’s important to note that donors can fatigue at the organizational or sector level. Organizational fatigue is when the declines are across all lists sources for that specific charity’s appeals. But industry benchmarks may indicate that the donor fatigue is at the sector level (e.g., total giving declined to international affairs in 2017 compared to 2016, according to Giving USA’s 2018 Annual Report).
- Multi-channel ramifications. You may notice a large group of donors switching their conversion channel. For instance, last year they may have given at an event, but this year they made their gift online. Those donors aren’t fatigued: They’re multi-channel. It is possible for donors to experience channel fatigue, so review your campaign level results for donor channel movement, which does not indicate donor fatigue.
Mimi Natz, Senior Vice President of Client Services, encourages nonprofits to look at the broad picture. Overall file performance will give much more accurate insight into your donor trends than focusing on a few specific metrics.
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