Campaign expert and Capital Campaign Toolkit advisor, Jeff Hensley, recently shared his thoughts on what to do when your donors start resenting being asked — or even worse — simply stop giving to your organization altogether.

This is the first of a six-part series of posts drawn from discussions with six of the Toolkit’s experts. A full audio discussion of the topic has been recorded for the podcast, All About Capital Campaigns, which you can listen to on your favorite podcast platform.

Is donor fatigue real? You bet it is — but probably not in the way that you think.

Do Your Donors Suffer from Donor Fatigue?

Lots of development directors are worried that their donors are tired of giving. Right now, people are doubly concerned because in the last year (during the pandemic) people gave more than ever before. They were asked and asked again to help in the times of crisis, and they came through.

Now development directors and board members are asking whether you should continue to ask or whether you’ve asked too much.

Are They Tired of Giving? Or Something Else?

Are your donors actually tired of giving? Or are they tired of something else? Have you ever heard a donor say:

I’m tired of giving. I think I’m going to stop.

Honestly, I’ve never met a donor who said she was tired of giving. Donors enjoy giving.

Asking donors to give does not make them tired. But something else does!

Donors Get Tired of Being Taken for Granted

Donors don’t get tired of giving, but they do get tired of being taken advantage of.

  • They get tired of feeling like nothing more than an ATM machine.
  • They get tired of giving and not being thanked promptly or well.
  • They get tired of not knowing what difference their gifts are making.
  • They get tired of being “guilted” into making a gift.

In a nutshell, donors don’t get tired of giving — they get tired of giving to organizations that don’t treat them right. And when they get tired enough, they may decide to stop giving to the offending organization and give their money elsewhere.

So, if your donors and board members are talking about donor fatigue, you’ve got to take it seriously and find out what they’re really really tired of.

How to Find Out Why Your Donors Are Fatigued

In our discussion with Jeff Hensley, we came up with some excellent ways to get to the bottom of what’s really going on when your donors worry about fatigue. Here are a few of the ideas we discussed.

Start with Simple Conversation

Always start by talking to the person who is worried about donor fatigue. Why? Because though that person may be talking about others, chances are very good that she is describing her own feelings.

So, sit down with your donor and ask about her experience as a donor to your organization. Ask if she feels appreciated. Find out how she feels about how she is asked and when. Ask if she feels gratified by her gifts and if she knows what sort of difference her gifts are making.

If your donor is uncomfortable talking about herself, pretend you are asking her about other donors and remember that her answers likely reflect her own experience.

Encourage her to help you think about what you can do to make donors feel better about their giving.

Gather Direct Feedback

You might also prepare a simple survey to send to your top 30 to 50 donors about their experience about giving to your organization.

Once you have some direct feedback from your donors, you will be able to rethink some of your development practices and make simple changes to transform your donors’ experiences.

Donor Fatigue and Your Capital Campaign

The subject of donor fatigue often comes up when you are planning on asking for large campaign gifts. In the podcast that inspired this post, you’ll also discover how to combine your campaign asks with your annual fundraising — give it a listen!

Check out the All About Capital Campaigns Podcast on your favorite podcast platform.

1 Comment

  1. Maura Byrnes

    Thank you for posting this! I think this topic is crucial. The sub-text is what drives the need for conversation; donors may not directly express their resentment, but they might avoid development officers or trustees’ calls, skip meetings, or not follow-through on tasks they volunteered to do. These can be symptoms of feeling taken advantage of or not being stewarded appropriately. I would add that some donors are spoken to in a manner that seems “too familiar,” as if the staff thinks they are friends with the donors. While we might be friendly, major donors are not our friends. Every party is a business meeting. Every conversation must be intentional, respectful, and kind. I enjoyed reading how we can clear the air and address those hard feelings. Grateful for this post.


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