The Myth of Donor Fatigue

Sleeping KidsWhen you run a charity or nonprofit, you will find yourself wondering if you are asking for money too often. Are you bothering you donors by sending out too many letters and emails? Are your benefactors getting tired of your appeals for funding?

My short, and loud, answer to this is “NO!” They are not. Why? YOU and YOUR ORGANIZATION are not the center of your benefactors’ universe!

Your benefactors are out there living their lives. They are getting married, getting divorced, caring for their aging parents, guiding their wayward kids, changing jobs, selling their houses, figuring out which contractor will put on their new roof, all the while running to the laundromat because their washing machine is broken and it will take two more weeks for the part to arrive.

In other words, while they might love what your organization does, it is probably not even a blip on the radar of their day-to-day-lives. Yes, there are some exceptions to this, but usually you have to work hard to get your benefactors attention. If you don’t have their attention, they won’t give. Even if you have their attention, they may not give TODAY, but a month from now. . .

You need to ask often!

“But wait,” you say. “My benefactors told me that they don’t need to receive all this mail or all these emails. They will give to me because what we do is important. Once or twice a year—just to keep them in the loop, is enough.”

For donors who are totally committed to your organization and have a strong track record of support, a few times a year may be enough.

However consider the following. Why do churches pass the basket every Sunday? Surely their members know that they have bills to pay. Churches pass the basket BECAUSE they have bills to pay and want to remind their members of this! Churches know that every Sunday some members won’t put something in. Perhaps they forgot their wallets, or are having some cash flow issues. That’s okay—because they are passing the basket, some attendees will put something in.

AND does anybody think for a minute that if they didn’t pass the basket, people would drop off their donations before they left? (Aside—this story is for another post, they won’t. This has been experimentally verified by me.) AND for those who didn’t put money in this Sunday, the basket will go around again next Sunday. They’ll have their chance then.

Churches get their bills paid and are able to grow in programs and services BECAUSE they ask every week.

Yes, I’ve heard people complain in general about churches asking for money, but few question the weekly pass-the-basket model of fundraising. That’s just how it’s done.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you ask your benefactors every week. But, I’m suggesting that you create a bias in your thinking toward asking. If you aren’t sure you should send out another appeal letter, you should. If you aren’t sure you should approach the same donor who said “no” six months ago, you should.

Through the years I’ve heard a few people complain about receiving “all this mail” asking for money. But, the reason they receive “all this mail” is that it works. The more often your organization asks, the more they will receive. People need to be reminded. Those who really hate to be on your mailing lists will let you know, and you can remove them. (Note: BUT if they have been steadfast supporters or might become steadfast supporters, be sure to keep in touch in other ways.)

My own behavior illustrates this point. I have a list of charities I support. As a result, I am on their mailing lists. While I certainly don’t give in response to each piece of mail I receive from them, each piece of mail updates me on their good work, made possible in part by my gifts. It reminds me that in my busy life my gifts are enabling a lot of good to happen. AND, each piece of mail includes an envelope, making it easy for me to give.

I use SOME of those envelopes. I’m sure if the charities knew which appeal I’d respond to, they wouldn’t send the others. BUT they don’t know and neither do I.

I need my “goodness fix.” When a charity asks me to give and offers me the chance to feel good, I’m going to consider it. I won’t give every time I’m asked, but if I’m not asked (and therefore gently and kindly reminded that there is so much more happening in the world than me having to get the washer fixed), I might  not give.

It really is that simple.

Although I’ve talked about churches and this isn’t a religious post, please note that the Bible was on to something. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

In the fundraising world, if you don’t ask, you WON’T receive. If you don’t ask often, you won’t receive often. I’d love to hear what you think!


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