What is donor fatigue?

Donor fatigue is a phenomenon where people no longer donate to charities, even if they have donated in the past. There are a number of causes for donor fatigue, including pressure to donate, stretched budgets, and frustration with poorly managed charities and donation campaigns. Many charities work hard to avoid donor fatigue as it negatively affects their funds raised for the year. There are a variety of ways donors and charities can avoid donor fatigue.

The most benign cause of donor fatigue is simply budget exhaustion. Many people involved in charitable giving set aside a specific budget each year for this purpose. When the budget runs out, they can no longer donate. Events like natural disasters can wipe out a charity's donation budget, as was the case in 2005 when people donated to victims of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita followed in Katrina's footsteps. Donors wanted to help, but they didn't have the financial means to do so.

Smaller regional charities often suffer from donor fatigue after major disasters. In the United States, for example, many people donated to victims' funds after the 2001 terrorist attacks. While their funds certainly helped someone somewhere, their donations took money out of their communities, and many small charities reported a decrease in donations for the fourth quarter of 2001 as a result.

In other cases, people are frustrated by the constant appeals to donate. Charities that constantly send emails, have phone monitors and use other tactics to solicit donations can take advantage of the patience of their potential donors, who are starting to feel irritated rather than philanthropic. Many charities try to maintain one large campaign a year for this reason, although donations are welcome throughout the year.

Finally, some donors get frustrated when they donate to charity and nothing seems to happen, or when the charity really appears to be mismanaged. Constant changes in staff, campaign approaches and administration are all signs that a charity may be in trouble, and donors may prefer to send their funds to causes that actually appear to be working. This can be frustrating for nascent charities, who can't do a good job because they don't have enough funds.

Charities can take steps to avoid donor fatigue, such as running limited and concise campaigns and showcasing the work they do to interested donors. Donors can avoid feeling overwhelmed by setting an accurate budget for charitable donations and not be afraid to say they've already donated when asked for donations that exceed their budgets. It's also a good idea to research charities to make sure they are legitimate if you care about how your donations are used.

Donors may also want to consider the fact that donations do not have to be cash only. Donors can offer things like blood to the Red Cross, which is always in need of blood donations, and items like canned food, blankets, books and old clothes for a variety of causes, from churches to food banks.

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