A couple of weeks ago, we looked at some things that fundraisers should be afraid of. After all, knowing what to be afraid of is a basic survival skill.
But just as important is knowing what not to worry about.
Here are some truly non-scary things that should not be haunting your dreams. They get a lot of attention, and they scare a lot of fundraisers. But they really shouldn’t.
Donor fatigue is a theoretical state in which donors get tired of hearing about some specific topic — sometimes giving in general — and they become unresponsive. It’s often given as the reason things aren’t going well for an organization’s recent fundraising.
The “solution” most often given for donor fatigue is to stop fundraising about the specific topic – or, very often, to cut back on fundraising altogether.
Cancelling fundraising because of donor fatigue is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. The lack of funds raised because you didn’t try to raise funds “proves” the belief that donors are unresponsive.
It’s true, donor responsiveness to anything can rise or fall. Messaging about COVID worked for nearly two years, bringing in record revenue for some. It’s not doing that anymore for most of us.
But that’s not donor fatigue. That’s just a topic becoming less relevant. Donors aren’t “fatigued,” they’re just responding to other issues and causes.
The idea that donors fatigue of giving altogether is even less likely. Relevant, interesting, donor-focused fundraising never fatigues your donors.
But it can fatigue us fundraisers.
That’s why “fundraiser fatigue” – not “donor fatigue” – is what you should fear. It’s common and understandable when any of us grow tired of deploying similar messages repeatedly. It just gets boring. And hard to believe it’s still of interest to others.
So we cite a made-up theory about all donors getting tired of us and annoyed with our messaging …
If your fundraising is down, look first at what you’re doing: Are you staying relevant to your donors? Are you giving them the chance to make a difference? Are you letting them know their giving really matters?
Stay relevant, and your donors will stay engaged. And when you start to feel tired of a particular topic – that’s probably about the time donors really start to take notice of it.
Complaints from Donors
Complaints from donors really terrify some fundraisers.
I understand the feeling, especially when a complaint is articulate and reasonable. When that happens, it can cause you to feel that you were “caught” doing something wrong.
There’s sometimes someone at the organization who carefully tracks the number of complaints and sends out urgent messages when they come in. Worse yet, sometimes that person alerts people on the Board, creating a sense of emergency about the overwhelming tide of donor dissatisfaction.
But when you compare the number of complaints to the number of donations the imbalance is frankly ridiculous: hundreds or thousands said YES with their bank accounts, while a handful complained.
Which group should you be paying more attention to?
(If I saw a fundraising campaign that got five donations and a couple of thousand complaints, I’d take a good second look!)
Here’s the really important thing: Complaints about your fundraising are a good sign. Because complaints are engagement.
That’s why the most successful fundraising campaigns also generate the most complaints.
Here are some complaints you will never hear from donors:
- Your fundraising failed to get my attention.
- Your fundraising didn’t make me feel anything.
- Your fundraising didn’t move me to action.
Those are mistakes we all make now and then. But these errors don’t generate complaints, because they don’t create engagement.
When you succeed at engagement, you hope it comes in the form of a donation. But sometimes it doesn’t. Maybe the donor can’t give right now. Or doesn’t want to give right now. Or won’t give to you ever…
But you got her attention in a way that she can’t ignore. So she complains. It’s far from the worst thing that could happen. The worst would be an entire donor file that you can’t engage with at all. That’s a scary thought!
Too Much Contact
Speaking of complaints, one of the most common complaints fundraisers get from donors is, “You send too much mail” (or email).
That must mean the quantity of fundraising is a real problem. And you must be in deep trouble, with donors just a step away from rising up in angry rebellion against the onslaught on their mailboxes.
If it’s true that you’re sending so much mail you’re damaging your file, you’d know: Revenue would drop. Worse, donor retention would drop.
And that doesn’t happen. If you send more fundraising, what you can realistically count on is this:
- You will get more revenue. And that includes more net revenue.
- Donor retention will improve. Donors “retain” by donating. When they have more opportunities to donate, more of them donate.
I expect there is “too much” contact in fundraising. Where you actually chase away donors and bring in less revenue. I don’t know what that number is, because I’ve never seen it happen. And I’ve worked with organizations that send truly epic amounts of fundraising … and they had top-notch donor retention.
The large majority of fundraising organizations send four or fewer direct mail appeals per year. And not a whole lot more email appeals. If you are in that group, it’s nearly certain that you are far from sending too much. In fact, you are probably not making the net revenue you could, and your donor retention is lower than it could be.
You should consider doing more.
The only true “too much fundraising” I’ve encountered first-hand is when smaller organizations don’t have enough people to do all the work. The appeals may work just fine, but the pace is ruining the lives of people on staff.
Don’t do that! Stop before anyone gets hurt. Or look for ways to outsource the work.
It’s easy to forget that donors aren’t a captive audience who pay close attention to everything we send them and read every word starting at the beginning and straight through to the end.
Not even close.
Donors, like most readers, have a lot on their minds. If we manage to get their attention at all, they skip around, skim, get distracted, lose their place, come back later at a different place.
That’s why effective fundraising tends to be highly repetitive. Whatever it is you want people to do, tell them that thing … again and again and again.
If your appeal has only one ask, you have pretty much not asked at all.
This repetitive quality can get annoying, especially when you’re reading closely and carefully. You’re likely to think, I heard it the first, second, and third times! Enough already!
That’s not what your donors are thinking. Because they’re not reading the way you do: They’re zipping right past the first, second, and third time you asked them to give. You hope they will take note the fourth or fifth time.
Another kind of repetition you should be using is always talking about the same things in the same (or similar) ways. If your messaging is driving you (or your boss) to distraction with all its repetition – you might be just starting to get through to your donors.
Some fundraisers change their messaging frequently, thinking donors must get tired of the old messaging just as fast as we do. They end up with confused donors who never quite catch up.
A third type of repetition not to be afraid of: Recycling stories. Or even whole messages.
Suppose your Year End appeal does better than it ever has before. And you can’t find any external reasons for the success. It’s just that you did a really great job. This time, why not just pick up that powerful appeal again? Revise what needs to change to keep up with current conditions, but otherwise – send the same appeal again.
Your donors won’t notice. If any of them do notice, they won’t be less likely to give. You might even find you do better the second time around.
Most of the time, you can repeat a successful appeal three or more times before it starts to “wear out.” You’ll know that has happened when you see a drop in response. But don’t assume it’s worn out until it actually happens.
Want to put the best practices, experience, and wisdom to work in your fundraising? Find your way forward by scheduling a free 25-minute call with Fundraisingologist Sean Triner. He’ll give you great free advice, and help you identify which Moceanic Coaching+ program might be right for you. Click here to book your call.
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