Combat “Donor Fatigue” with These Tips to Revitalize Your Fundraising
By Suzanne Hilser-Wiles
In recent years, many of us in the philanthropic community have heard talk of a worrying trend from partners in the field: donor fatigue. It’s the idea that even the most committed, high-level donors are becoming exhausted from being asked to give, as institutions are increasingly relying on smaller numbers of generous donors to sustain their work. Some correlate the concept with a decrease in the share of Americans giving to charity over the last two decades.
Frontline fundraisers might also cite “donor fatigue” as a frustration in achieving their targets. In fact, in a recent survey of fundraising professionals by The Chronicle Philanthropy, respondents cited “unrealistic fundraising goals” – along with heavy workloads and staff vacancies – as reasons for burnout.
If your fundraising team is anxious about demotivated donors, listen to their concerns, and offer support and empathy where you can. It’s possible that some of these worries are a projection of the exhaustion many fundraisers themselves are feeling. At the same time, it is important to consider strategies to help identify and address core issues that could be contributing to the perception of donor fatigue.
Here are key steps you can take to better understand and more effectively address such issues head-on.
Encourage a Culture of Transparency and Collaboration with Gift Officers
As post-pandemic burnout has caused many professionals to rethink their careers, fundraising roles have been hit hard in the job market. This has contributed to understaffing and increased pressure on those who remain in the field, often with little recognition in terms of pay or even praise. Eighty-two percent of the respondents to The Chronicle of Philanthropy survey expressed that fundraising roles are underappreciated, while 94 percent believed there is tremendous pressure to succeed.
If your fundraising team is anxious about demotivated donors, listen to their concerns…It’s possible that some of these worries are a projection of the exhaustion many fundraisers themselves are feeling.
Coaching and follow-up meetings are vital to supporting gift officers in their work. Encouraging a culture where they can provide regular feedback that goes beyond metrics and performance goals can also help identify areas where more support is needed. Regularly soliciting the feedback of your fundraisers and including them in decision-making are tangible ways to show them they are valued.
Engage in Meaningful Conversations with Loyal Donors
Even if donors have been longtime supporters, you may not completely understand their motivations and giving behaviors. So, if you think your donors are fatigued, it’s important to ask them. You might learn that these very donors have some reservations about your institution – Is leadership planning properly for the future? Is the institution reaching its full potential?
Trustees and patrons, particularly those who are older and have supported an institution for many years, might begin to worry about who will step in after they’re gone. At the same time, generous donors may grow concerned that the donor pool doesn’t reflect the institution’s community, or that the organization is being hampered due to a lack of engagement with potential new donors.
It’s true that some donors may tire of funding institutions they no longer believe to be effective. And in some cases, giving priorities might shift. But it’s also true that what seems like fatigue might actually be donors expressing concern for the future of institutions they love.
Enhance Your Stewardship Practices
Even your most generous donors and biggest advocates need to be reminded of the value they bring to the table outside of the traditional donor-fundraiser relationship. Remember to engage your regular donors in ways that don’t involve asking for money. Make sure you’re articulating the impact that their generosity is having on the organization’s mission and the world.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to incorporate donor stories into your engagements that commend the impact of individual participation in philanthropy. Providing regular updates that keep donors in the loop about what is happening at your institution – even if it’s just celebrating small wins or a staff anniversary – is a simple but effective way to show your community that their gifts matter.
This may require setting up a communications calendar for both personalized and general outreach to different levels of donors and investing time and resources in new ways to tell the story of your work.
While a personal touch is critical, the concerns of veteran donors will be better alleviated with hard data and a clear plan of action. One way to do this is to share campaign reports, highlighting the number of first-time donors at the major gift level and showing that you’ve reached out to new prospects and the effort is having a positive impact.
All of this will demonstrate that you’ve heard their concerns and encourage your top donors to continue their support for your organization.
Use Analytics to Deepen Your Prospect Pool
Many nonprofits rely on personal networks for identifying prospective major gift donors. This is an understandable strategy, but one that has clear limitations. The best way to broaden your pool of donors is to implement a system of donor analytics so you can better understand who has the capacity and the inclination to support your organization – especially those outside of your personal networks.
Using a data-driven approach with tools such as DonorScape®, you can identify new prospects who are passionate about your area of work and have the wherewithal to contribute to the cause. For example, DonorScape’s major gift portfolio analysis helps advancement professionals manage their portfolio of prospects by highlighting individuals who may have a history of long-term giving or past experience with volunteer work in your field.
This gives your team the tools they need to prioritize their discovery work and focus on the most promising prospects. Of course, implementing these systems often requires additional support so that your major gift officers have time for managing these new prospects. You will also need to train major gift officers on effective discovery work and set clear goals and KPIs for their discovery visits. In the end, though, these efforts are worth the investment.
For those donors who have expressed concern with your institution’s fundraising strategy, you should communicate the success of your new approach to prospect management without overwhelming them with unnecessary outreach. This is best done with a one-on-one communications plan that involves a handful of top donors and a communications professional at the level of vice president within your development department.
As you focus on new strategies for supporting frontline fundraisers, deepening prospect management, and enriching stewardship with key donors, you can build a stronger foundation for advancement well into the future.
If you would like guidance in developing your organization’s fundraising strategy or donor stewardship plan, contact Suzanne Hilser-Wiles at email@example.com.