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Donor fatigue, is it real?

This blog post was originally published on February 26, 2021, on the IUPUI Lilly Family School of Philanthropy website. Kristi Howard-Shultz serves as a contributing writer for the school's blog.

Over the last year we’ve heard a lot about fatigue—pandemic fatigue, COVID fatigue, Zoom fatigue. You may be experiencing all of these and more including donor fatigue.

To explore this long-standing concept, I visited with Tim Seiler, Ph.D. As a professor, he hears this listed as one of the biggest and most common challenges among fellow fundraisers.

The question is, while you may be feeling it, is it real?

Where and how have you heard this?

Over the last several years giving trends indicate fewer donors are giving more. That said, you may be in touch with less donors more often and be hearing this from them. Honor those donors’ experiences and wishes and dig deeper.

If you are hearing this, now may be the time to send a donor satisfaction survey. On a broader scale, you can then identify causes, work to address the findings, and be sure to prevent donor fatigue moving forward.

Are the majority of your conversations solicitations?

Solicitation is one element of the donor life cycle. Are you neglecting the others?

  • Are you working on retention?

  • What can you do to strengthen cultivation and stewardship?

  • What are you doing to identify new donors and expand your reach?

  • How do you value and prioritize activities all along the donor life cycle?

  • How can you build a relationship with donors versus simply having transactions?

In pursuit of process improvements and increased efficiency, you may actually be doing more harm than good. An audit of your current operations plan can help you answer these tough questions. Personally, I like to color code mine so that I can quickly and easily see that I am giving my utmost attention to developing a deep connection with donors.

As a fundraiser, are you experiencing fundraiser fatigue?

In 20 years of fundraising, I have never had a goal lowered. The demand for resources grows all of the time. While achieving this growth is wonderful for your mission, allowing you to serve more and better, it can be a daunting task.

Rather than focusing exclusively on the metrics of fundraising—the bottom line—center your attention around fostering a sense of community among donors to grow giving and retention. Notice if you may be experiencing “death by” events or campaigns. Are you spending most of your time setting up tables and chairs or running virtual event registration?

Work toward the goal of evaluating soft costs for each event and campaign. Soft costs are, arguably, the most important (and most often omitted) figure when calculating net revenue. When staff time is used effectively, everybody wins.

Whether donor fatigue is a myth or fact in your organization, the feelings are real and we can do something about them!


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Hi, I'm Kristi

Throughout my career, I’ve watched organization after organization hire consultants that are ineffective or don't take time to truly understand your organization. You're left without an actionable plan
or a mess to clean up
after they walk out the door.  

I’m committed to meeting you where you are and walking alongside you to build a plan that translates your vision into action now and into the future.

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