Donor Fatigue

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.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email

Who to include…???

My five or so years in “the biz” of fundraising has led me to believe that who to include in the annual report is a hot topic.

Paper isn’t cheap, so you want to use the pages of your publication wisely. On top of that, the annual report is much more than a report – it’s a tool. It’s a tool to encourage those who gave to give again; those who didn’t give to give; and those who gave some to give more.

With all that in mind, what do you do?

My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is to include everyone.

Yes, absolutely there are limits to this, but if you can – include everyone.

As a young person, I focus a lot of thought, research, and attention to young people and their capacity to give, their knowledge of philanthropy, and what drives them to make a donation.

So when I think about the annual report, I think about a young alumnus (in the case of educational fundraising). I think about a young alumnus making a gift of $25 and thinking, “This is all I can manage at this point. I hope it can make a difference.”

And of course, if the alumnus told that to us fundraisers, we’d say, “Absolutely it makes a difference!  Every dollar counts!”  But then what if they look at the annual report and see that only people who made gifts of $1,000+ are listed? What will they feel about their $25 gift then?  Will they think it matters?

And, of course, this doesn’t only apply to young donors – it applies to anyone under that $1,000 mark.

Yes, the idea of excluding those who gave under $1,000 is to encourage them to give that bit more to get them in the report. But let’s look back at what I said the annual report is a tool for: to encourage those who gave to give again; those who didn’t give to give; and those who gave some to give more.

How do we encourage those who gave to give again?  We recognize their gift by listing them in the report.

How do we encourage those who didn’t give to give? We show every single gift from $0.01+ in the report so that those who didn’t give see that they’ll get recognition no matter what they give.

How do we encourage those who gave some to give more? This is the only one for which perhaps only including gifts of $1,000+ encourages giving. But there’s another way – we all have them – giving societies. The donor who gave $1-$999 could easily be encouraged to give more when they see if they give $1,000, they’ll be part of another society. No, it’s not a surefire way to encourage a larger gift next year, but it could work.

Or – here’s a thought: On the topic of young donors, do we create a lower threshold of giving in order for this group to get listed in the report? Make it relative to age and stage? It’s something to consider.

But as far as I can see, you can’t lose by listing every gift in the annual report.  What do you think?  Do you passionately disagree?  Share your thoughts!  I can’t wait to see the debate!

Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising since 2007.

Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email