As you may know, I got my start in fundraising with a job as a student caller at Wilfrid Laurier University, calling alumni of the school as well as parents of current students, sharing updates and asking for their financial support. Many friends of mine would comment on how tough it must be to make those “cold calls” to alumni, but I always replied saying, “They’re not cold calls, they’re warm calls”. I don’t know where I’d picked up that term, and you could call it kind of corny, but it seemed applicable. Calling alumni or parents was never cold, because at the very least – whether they were an enthusiastic supporter or not – they had some connection to the institution. I’m thinking about this because I recently read an article from The Globe & Mail entitled “Toronto hospitals are about to find out just how deep donors’ pockets are”. The article begins by telling the story of Harvey Walker. In short, Mr. Walker’s wife, Joan, died of pancreatic cancer and he wanted to find a way to honour her memory. He decided the most fitting tribute would be to donate $100,000 in her name to the Scarborough Hospital, which provided compassion and care to Joan and her family. According to the article: “Two years later, Mr. Walker has become something of a darling on the mailing lists of hospital foundations across the city. Appeals for money arrive in his mailbox constantly. He’s never donated to most of the hospitals asking for his cash and doesn’t even know how they got his name.” As someone who has only worked in educational fundraising thus far, this is a very interesting concept to me – contacting people who don’t have a clear connection to the institution I work for. I’ve been to a few prospect research workshops where so much discussion surrounds making a prospect list based on other institutions’/organizations’ annual reports (for example), and for a while I didn’t even understand why. It’s not as if I’m opposed to this because I know other organizations work differently, but when this article brought up the idea of “donor fatigue”, I could understand where that stems from. “But what about the risks? Hospital fundraising campaigns have become an incessant year-long event with appeals coming in the mail, online, on the radio and TV. Yet, as the fundraising pitches become increasingly enormous in size and scope, so too grows the worry that potential donors are beginning to tune out.” My point is not that one type of institution is better than the other, not at all. It’s just interesting where our prospects come from and how that differs from organization to organization. The truth is, too, that many of a school’s most generous donors are also turning up on other organizations’ – including hospitals’ – lists and so despite having a clear, personal connection to their alma mater, “donor fatigue” is still a concern. What are your thoughts? How do we combat donor fatigue???
Written by Maeve Strathy
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.