Donor Fatigue? 3 Things Nonprofits Need To Know

In the wake of so many disasters and humanitarian crises, many nonprofits are nervous about year-end fundraising prospects. Here’s the good news: GlobalGiving hasn’t seen a drop in individual giving, and there are three steps you can take to actively prevent burn-out among your donors.


First, the facts. Looking at donation totals to thousands of nonprofits around the world and covering six major disasters over the past two months, we’re not seeing major evidence of donor fatigue on GlobalGiving. Giving to disasters hasn’t decreased over the past two months. In fact, overall donation totals have actually increased year-over-year on GlobalGiving, and organizations fundraising for non-disaster-related causes have still been successful during this time—our most recent Accelerator cohort was more successful than any other group in GlobalGiving history. Furthermore, repeat giving rates haven’t changed, and donors aren’t demonstrating that they’re tired of our appeals. (We haven’t seen any decrease in email engagement rates over the past few months.) There may even be evidence that giving spurs more giving. Read this post on Beth’s Blog for more details about what we’re seeing.

So, what can you do to prevent donor fatigue? Even if there’s not evidence yet of donor fatigue, we all need to stay vigilant about nurturing meaningful relationships with donors right now. We know that during humanitarian crises, nonprofits depend on human empathy to raise funds quickly to help those in need. According to Caring In Crisis research, ‘hit and run’-type disaster appeals might work in the short term, but fundraising without focusing on relationships can cause collateral damage, making donors feel dehumanized, helpless, and cynical in the long term.

The research suggests there are ways nonprofits can help to avoid donor fatigue. GlobalGiving and our partners have been focusing on these three strategies:

    1. Keep information emotionally manageable.

    The identifiable victim effect is important to remember. The story of the one named person being rescued from the rubble in Mexico is easier for donors to handle than the thought of a whole school or city in distress. Appeals that are very specific, actionable, and emotionally manageable are more effective. Even just ensuring donors that their donation will go to help people affected by a specific situation in a specific area can go a long way.

    2. Ensure proposed solutions are cognitively meaningful and morally significant to donors.

    If donors can see the difference they’re making, their perspective on the whole situation changes. GlobalGiving sends very specific updates about how donations are used. This makes a donation feel less like a transaction and more like the beginning of a relationship. How do we know this works? After people read reports about how funds are used, they actually are happier with their donation. We see an increase in Net Promoter Scores—akin to satisfaction ratings—after donors read reports (compared to immediately after their donation).

    3. Provide meaningful opportunities for donors give feedback.

    We have pages and pages of responses to email updates that look like this:

    “I can’t tell you how good it is to get an email actually updating me on the funding received overall and further, detailing where and to whom the funds are going. Thank you for making it easy for me to help you help others.”

    Donors want to be able to ask questions and give feedback as part of the relationship with your cause.

Here’s the final takeaway: As we all prepare for #GivingTuesday and year-end fundraising, don’t get discouraged! Instead, stick to what we know works: Tell specific, compelling, emotionally manageable stories. Provide safe and easy ways for people to engage in a way that feels significant to them. And create meaningful feedback loops with updates from the ground and opportunities for donors to share their thoughts. I’d also recommend that you don’t ignore the disasters altogether in your communications this month, but find ways to make connections around shared human values.

Take heart! Your work is important, and we believe you can harness this spirit of human kindness and generosity that’s beginning to thrive and channel it toward your earth-changing work this giving season.

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Featured Photo: Help us make Slovakia a Great Country by Pontis Foundation

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