Busting the Myth of Donor Fatigue

05/02/2021 9:41 PM | Elizabeth Duffrin (Administrator)

by Janet Cobb, ACN Member

If I had a nickel for every time a client voiced concern about not wanting to cause “donor fatigue,” I’d be very rich!

Many nonprofits are afraid of communicating with their donors “too often.” They don’t want donors to get tired of hearing from them, to unsubscribe, or to stop giving. They don’t want to “bother” or “nag” them. But the idea of “donor fatigue” is a myth.

Why is it a myth?

Think about it. Take a moment to think about an activity or event you enjoy or a cause you care about. Do you look forward to hearing about it or do you dread it?

What emails, texts, and phone calls do you look forward to? Who are they from? What are they about?

I love to read small business and nonprofit origin stories. I enjoy learning about new ideas for solving big problems around racism, homelessness, food security, disease, domestic violence—the list goes on. I appreciate information on writing, gardening, home repairs, and cooking. I am passionate about many things. And when I’m interested in something – I love to be inspired. I enjoy learning more about what others are doing and how to improve or enjoy it in new ways. I want to know what’s going on with the social causes I care about.

For some people it’s sports, politics, religion. We have entire television, radio, podcast, YouTube, print news, and every other imaginable channel to stay connected to the things we care about.

Why would the causes we support through our philanthropic gifts be any different? We don’t give because we don’t care – we give because we do care.

So, really, the problem isn’t how often we communicate with donors but what we say – or don’t say – to them.

How do we bust the myth?

Remember you’re engaging in a conversation with people who care about what you care about.

You’re not producing monologues or soliloquies. You’re carrying on a conversation. A conversation takes at least two – to speak and to listen. Ask yourself – “How can I offer a benefit to the audience? How can I serve my community through this communication?”

Don’t always talk about yourself (i.e., your organization and programs).

Share content about the CAUSE with links to news articles or other people or organization’s efforts and success. Have you recently read a book or listened to a podcast that educated, informed, or inspired you that you can share? Can you ask questions to discover what inspires a donor’s gift? Can you ask questions to better understand the talent, energy, and resources that your community brings to the table?

Use conversational language not business, formal language.

Write as if you are writing a letter to your best friend or family member. Don’t use industry jargon. Keep your sentences simple. Be honest and authentic. Show vulnerability when appropriate. Don’t act like you have it all figured out if you don’t. We may each play a different role, but we’re all in this together trying to create a better world – write from that perspective.

Communicate with purpose.

Have a reason to invade my inbox. Do you have something new to say? Decide if your communication will inform, educate, inspire, thank, or ask for a donation. Don’t send mixed messages. Have a specific, clear call to action.

Know your audience.

Donors, non-donors, lapsed donors, volunteers – many levels of engagement exist within your community. You don’t want to send the same communication to everyone. Are you trying to acquire, convert, re-engage, retain, or upgrade a donor? Will you send via postal mail or email, post on social media, or record on video? Which channel does the donor or prospect prefer? What program area does the donor gravitate towards? Use all the information you have about your audience to communicate so that they feel like you understand them.

Remember, no one wants to be one of a million – they want to feel like they are one in a million. We all know we’re not the only person in the room, but it sure feels good when someone makes us feel like we are.

If you are creating and sending a variety of communications to donors that will help them feel more engaged and connected to the mission and vision of your organization, you can never communicate too much.

Janet Cobb is a national speaker and author of  Promised Land: The 10 Commandments for Nonprofit Strategy, Communications, and Fundraising. As a consultant and coach, she has guided more than 300 early-stage, small and mid-size nonprofits to create strategic plans, communication plans, and 12-month fundraising roadmaps.


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