How to prevent donor burnout

Do your donors “burn out” and get tired of giving?

Short answer: No.

More complete answer: … it’s complicated. And burnout is avoidable.

I’ve encountered three conditions that you might call donor burnout:

1. “Imputed” Donor Burnout

This is when fundraisers get a “gut feeling” they’re asking too much and they’re about to drive donors crazy.

So they don’t ask. And they don’t receive. It’s self-fulfilling.

Don’t do this to yourself. You are going to get tired of repetitive or similar messaging a long time sooner than donors will. Keep with effective message for as long as it works. Stop when or if the effectiveness wanes. Not when you guess they’ve had enough!

2. Micro Donor Burnout

When fundraising impacts are very frequent, they can start to step on each other. If message B goes out just a few days after message A, message A will lose some of its response to B. And if message C falls quickly after B, B will also lose some response. It’s a bit like robbing Peter to pay Paul, while also robbing Percy to pay Peter.

Overall return-on-investment — that is, efficiency — can suffer, though overall net revenue usually creeps upward.

At the same time, there are donors who vigorously complain about what they perceive to be too-frequent asking. This can increase our sense that we’re causing donors to burn out.

If you see this happening, the best step is to maintain as much time between fundraising impacts as possible.

3. Irrelevant Fundraising Burnout

This is the most common form of donor burnout. It’s when you have organization-focused fundraising that really doesn’t connect with donors.

Even a small amount of infrequent fundraising is too much when it’s irrelevant to begin with!

Really, it’s not donor burnout at all. It’s just weak fundraising. The more irrelevant fundraising you do, the worse it gets. You waste more and more money and time … while motivating fewer and fewer donors to give.

The solution: Be relevant! (Yeah, that’s a lot easier said than done!)

Here’s the important truth: The more you ask, the more you’ll get. This is nearly always true. Donors like to give. They like to hear from you. Unless you’re doing something terrible in your fundraising, the impacts you send are more a positive event than a negative one in most donor’s lives.

The top predictor of likeliness to give is the recency of the last gift. This tells us that giving doesn’t annoy donors — it feels good! Too many nonprofits assume that when a donor gives, they’ve burned out a little bit and shouldn’t be asked again for some amount of time — or they’ll burn out even more.

It doesn’t work that way. Donors seldom burn out. Fundraisers do all the time.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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