"I'm sitting out this year's Ride/Run/Walk (or other event of choice). I've been doing this for three (four, five, etc) years and my donors need a break!"
If you manage or lead a fundraising event or annual campaign, I'm guessing you've heard this comment or some version of it from volunteers that have been long time fundraisers for your charity. To state the obvious, your participants have bought into the self-created myth of donor fatigue. Wikipedia defines it as the "phenomenon in which people no longer give to charities although they have in the past." And your fundraisers will buy in unless they're presented with an alternative way of thinking.
How do you respond when your volunteers express this fear? Why do your fundraisers believe that they need to "give their donors a break" from supporting your worthy cause? Please feel free to share what you've experienced.
I've heard a range of responses to this challenge over the years. The easy one (hint: not my favorite) is simply acknowledgement and agreement. This usually sounds like: "Yes, you're right - we hear that a lot. Your donors probably would appreciate a break from donating."
Then there's the middling approach which acknowledges the challenge but gently encourages continued involvement: "I understand you may feel that way but don't take anyone off your email list." Your volunteer may stick with it but I'd question for how long.
In my opinion, a volunteer that shares his or her concern about assumed donor fatigue is giving you the opportunity of a lifetime. It's that slam dunk, open net or (insert favorite sports metaphor) that we're always looking for. They're practically begging you to re-affirm what inspired their hard work in the first place.
Here's what I would tell - and have told - volunteers regarding donor fatigue. Feel free to use individually or as a combo:
1. If your cause is worth supporting, it's worth supporting until you and your donors can stand together and say "Mission Accomplished" - whether that's in one year, five years or many years from now. Why would you stop along the road to your destination? The social challenges we face don't take a break. Why would your donors want to?
2. Donors respect commitment to a goal and impact whether it's curing a disease, alleviating poverty, changing the face of hunger or any other worthy cause. If you've been reaching out for their help for several years, wouldn't your donors question YOUR commitment if you STOPPED or took a break? I'm always thrilled when someone asks me for an update on the progress of charities I personally support. The last thing they'd want to hear is that I'm stepping away from my support for awhile - especially after they've followed my lead.
And, finally -
3. Let donors decide on their circumstances and choices - don't do it for them! By making the assumption that your donors are fatigued, you're robbing your donors of their freedom of choice. Of course some of last year's donors may step away or donate less. But if you stop fundraising, you'll never know if they might have increased their giving or want to take on an even bigger role in supporting your charity. Let them choose.
Again, I'd love to hear how you respond so we as a profession can successfully challenge this myth.
Now get out there and CRUSH DONOR FATIGUE!
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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