The Stories We Tell Ourselves: Donor Fatigue

The Stories We Tell Ourselves: Donor Fatigue


1 November 2022


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


OK – so let’s talk about donor fatigue. And two things we need to acknowledge head-on.

First, donor fatigue is real. It’s defined as the situation where donors either reduce or stop donating due to “feelings of indifference or desensitization caused by too many asks.”

This last part of the definition was supplied by the donor research firm WealthEngine. The causal relationship with “too many asks” is suspect and not further developed. And their #1 solution is regular WealthEngine screenings. Geez, who saw that coming?

Regardless of cause (and I’ll get to that), the first part is still relevant: feelings of indifference or desensitization. Fundraisers see this most acutely in disaster relief and political fundraising. The donor fatigue is real, and it’s directed at that specific cause – not necessarily at any particular organization or even at nonprofits in general.


The second thing we need to acknowledge up front is that no one gives us extra points for NOT asking. Every one of us is deluged every day by nonprofit requests in the mail, in email, and on social media. Add in political requests and it’s truly an avalanche.

OK so how many of those requests were from our organization? Four? Ten? It doesn’t matter. The point is the same. If we don’t send those requests, donors won’t notice. Much less think, “Wow, ABC Land Trust didn’t send me an appeal this year. I should give them more money!”


Let’s go back to the “feelings of indifference and desensitization” part. And considering it from the donor’s perspective, what’s really going on?

Gosh, I’ve given them money in the past, but I can’t tell that it’s made a difference at all. The problem is so huge, my little pittance would just be a drop in the bucket. It seems like my money just disappears into their black hole. No matter how much I give, they will just be back, asking for more next month. My gifts are irrelevant. I am irrelevant.


Think about it this way: If we take economic stress off the discussion table (and we can’t control that anyway), there are three primary reasons why people will give less to us than they did last year. All three are factors squarely within OUR control.

  • We stop asking.
  • The mission, programs, and projects we are working on are no longer inspiring, or maybe even relevant to our donors.
  • Donors either lose faith that we can get the work done, that their giving will make a difference, or both.


So what can we do about donor fatigue?

Pro-Tip: The answer is NOT to stop asking, or even to reduce the number of asks. Stopping the asks is more about fundraiser fatigue!

  1. Use stories about ONE person, ONE family, ONE piece of land, ONE river, ONE thing getting done. Stalin famously quipped that one death was a tragedy. A million was just a statistic. We need to keep our communications emotionally manageable.
  2. Help people see that their giving does make a difference. Tell success stories, even the small ones. Use first person whenever possible. And give them the credit. Instead of the chest-beating “look at all we’ve done” messaging, try more “look at all you’ve done” messaging.
  3. Express sincere gratitude. Beef up your acknowledgement process. Cut down the time between receipt of gift and thank you getting out. Use the phone, especially with Board members calling. Make it personal. At some level, donors give money and get noticed in return. So notice them!
  4. Take them there. There is nothing like taking people to protected land to see first hand how they have made a difference. And don’t use easements as an excuse. You can get landowner permission to host small donor events on the land. To help people see – first-person – how they are making a difference.
  5. Connect through values instead of accomplishments. Donors give because giving to conservation is one of their personal values. They believe what we believe. Focus on that. (See also, What Do You Do with Your Organizational Values?)


I’ll leave you with this: I’ve been fundraising long enough to see how donors react to economic stress. They give less, but not necessarily by reducing the amount they give to every organization. They tend to keep up their giving to the organizations they love the most. The organizations that are doing the things they value the most. The organizations they are the closest to.

We need to make sure we are doing everything we can to be one of those organizations. And then donor fatigue won’t really be a factor.


Cheers, and Have a great week!




PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.

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  • John Tewhey
    Posted at 08:13h, 02 November

    The extraordinary downturn in social activity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with a booming stock market, led to two years of unprecedented donor generosity, especially to cultural and performance organizations. A slumping stock market and a surge in requests by all non-profits in order to fulfill this year’s goals is resulting in a perfect storm of donor fatigue…I can feel it. Those organizations that fully achieve their 2022 and 2023 goals will know that they have a solid and sustainable fund-raising platform.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 09:54h, 02 November

      Well said, John.

  • Carol Abrahamzon
    Posted at 10:27h, 01 November

    This message is spot on, thank you.