Coronavirus fatigue: new reality, or just another myth?

Three times in the last week, I’ve been told, by people who believe it to be fact, that donors are starting to get coronavirus fatigue.

The proposed response to this “fact” is sometimes “stop talking about the virus,” or by the more Chicken Little types, “stop fundraising entirely for a while.”

I haven’t seen any factual support for this onset of fatigue, other than some recent results being a bit less amazing than the last couple of months.

I have, on the other hand, seen evidence very much to the contrary — organizations having unusually strong response to coronavirus-related fundraising campaigns. I have to admit, my evidence is anecdotal, based on first-hand observation of a few dozen organizations. Perhaps I live in an anomalous bubble where pandemic-related fundraising is still doing very well while it collapses everywhere else.

Let’s take a close look at the concept of coronavirus fatigue, so we can understand what it really is and what we should do about it in case it’s happening — or if it ever does happen.

What is coronavirus fatigue?

My definition of coronavirus fatigue is this: A condition in which a donors become measurably less responsive to fundraising that’s connected with the pandemic.

Let’s take a look at a crisis in the past: The devastating Haiti Earthquake that happened 10 years ago. It prompted an outpouring of charitable giving for a few weeks. Then giving dropped, quite dramatically — long before the problem was “solved.” That’s typical for a major natural disaster, and it’s widely interpreted as “compassion fatigue” — seemingly, donors grow tired of the topic and stop giving.

Fatigue? Or do other things cause the drop in giving?

Two things are worth noting:

  1. After a period of intense media coverage, the disaster drops out of the news, thus it becomes less present and relevant to most people. Fundraisers who are paying attention see the drop in response, so they move their messaging to other topics. So not only is there less coverage to the crisis, but also less fundraising. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.
  2. A lot of the increased crisis giving comes from atypical donors — people moved to action by the disaster at hand, not by a “donor lifestyle.” We know this because the retention rate of first-time disaster donors is a fraction of the retention of more typical donors.

So the disaster stops being in front of people — both in the news and in fundraising — and large percentage of the donors aren’t ongoing donors in the first place. Given that, I think calling that drop in giving “fatigue” is pretty silly.

The coronavirus pandemic is dramatically different from a “normal” disaster in an important way: Virtually every donor is living with its impact, and it is still getting nonstop media coverage. The police brutality unrest competes for the headlines, but the pandemic has not been “crowded out” of our consciousness.

This (and the fact that I have yet to see any evidence that giving is crashing) makes me believe that “coronavirus fatigue” is a myth.

Unless you’ve already seen a steep drop in responsiveness to virus-related fundraising, you should keep doing it.

Don’t decide for your donors that they are fatigued with the message! That’s their decision, not yours.

I understand that you are fatigued with it. I sure am. But that’s not a reason for changing your strategy.

“Donor fatigue” is usually an excuse for fundraisers who are tired of raising funds. Or bad at it. It’s a self-fulfilling prediction: You think donors won’t respond, so you don’t try to raise funds, so they don’t respond.

Eventually, the pandemic will grow less important to most of us than it is now. When it stops being a top news story, and when it doesn’t touch our lives every day. When that happens, it will become difficult to raise funds on the topic on the virus.

When that happens, it’s time to change your approach.

It’s likely to happen slowly, and it may happen unevenly — more in some places and in some fundraising sectors than others. That’s why it’s important to keep your eyes open.

But don’t take it as a truth just because someone says it’s happening but they don’t offer evidence. And don’t believe it even though it seems intuitively correct.

Donor responsiveness to anything can grow or shrink.

But “fatigue” is a made-up story you don’t need to believe.


Comments

2 responses to “Coronavirus fatigue: new reality, or just another myth?”

  1. Richard Pordes Avatar
    Richard Pordes

    You are absolutely right about the non-existence of CV donor fatigue. In fact I have found the same to be true in Japan and India. Average donations from our recent DM and Telemarketing campaigns in those two countries appear to be up 30-50% and response rates may even reach 100% higher. No sign of fatigue there yet!

  2. Richard Pordes Avatar
    Richard Pordes

    You are absolutely right about the non-existence of CV donor fatigue. In fact I have found the same to be true in Japan and India. Average donations from our recent DM and Telemarketing campaigns in those two countries appear to be up 30-50% and response rates may even reach 100% higher. No sign of fatigue there yet!

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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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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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