Is Donor Burnout Real?

How to inspire donor loyalty and longevity

The phrase “Donor Burnout” has been used in our industry for years. But is it real… or simply a myth to scare away fundraisers?

What is donor burnout?

First, let’s start with the definition of burnout: exhaustion of emotional strength or motivation resulting from prolonged stress or frustration.

But if a campaign doesn’t perform as expected, does that necessarily mean your donors are tired of giving overall? That you have asked them too many times? That they are emotionally frustrated with your ministry? Let’s not jump to conclusions too quickly…

Penelope Burk, in her best seller “Donor-Centered Leadership,” shares that to better understand why donors may suffer from prolonged frustration – or burnout – we need to determine what caused them to be in the opposite state to begin with: the state of prolonged satisfaction.

Satisfied donors:

  • Are loyal longer,
  • Can be counted on to donate more often,
  • And better yet, increase their giving!

So how do nonprofits keep donors satisfied to stop burnout before it begins?

Studies have shown there tend to be two points of emotional connection when a donor gives:

  1. The initial rush when they make the decision.
  2. The even greater elation when they learn that their gift helped achieve a meaningful and worthwhile result.

These are two critical touch points you can’t neglect. You see, donors like to give… and most of them want to hear from the recipient organization because they want to feel like they are actually making an impact!

While a financial gift does indeed take hard-earned money from a donor, the donor ends up richer, not poorer, from the transaction. Why? Because the transaction involved so much more than just money. It invoked feelings of goodwill and satisfaction from what their generosity made possible and, hopefully, a desire to repeat the experience.

If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this…
The more you ask, the more you’ll get.

This is nearly always true. And unless you are sending out something really offensive, the communications you send have more of a positive effect than a negative one in your donors’ lives. Studies have shown that the top predictor of likeliness to give is the RECENCY of the last gift. But remember, the content of your communications is equally as important as the cadence.

It’s not just HOW OFTEN you communicate with your donors, but HOW you communicate with them!

To that point, here are some helpful tips to keep your donors satisfied and energized:

Keep donors informed. Did you know that 55% of donors say they never or rarely receive measurable results from the charities they support? Organizations must communicate clearly and consistently with donors about how their gifts – monetary and otherwise – are being used to make a difference.

Thank your donors. Make sure your thank you letter reflects what the donor gave to and how their giving made a difference… and ensure it is sent in a timely manner. In a donor study group, 87% said that receiving a meaningful and prompt thank you demonstrating the measurable results is all it takes for them to be fully satisfied!

Help donors define what causes are most important to them. Make sure your donors have an opportunity to hear about all of your programs and services. Give them multiple and varied platforms to give financially: through gifts in kind, time spent as a volunteer and designated gifts, when possible. Create and present unique ideas to get donors on board and excited about your organization.

Encourage ongoing, rather than sporadic, contributions. Research shows that retention rates and annual gifts are much higher once donors become regular and monthly donors. Promote and provide easy options for recurring gifts through credit cards, direct deposit and even Venmo!

Be upfront and honest. If you are facing a tough challenge, don’t be afraid to share the bad news with your donors. Explain what is happening and how their help can turn an obstacle into an opportunity. Donors are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and better able to understand the many challenges that nonprofits face in today’s changing world, so don’t be afraid to reach out to them in times of need.

Empower your donors. Provide your donors with the tools they need to reach out to their network of friends, family and coworkers to become an “evangelist” for your organization. Encourage donors to post to their Facebook pages. Ask donors to start personal online fundraising pages. Provide a page on your website to download brochures, needs lists and event invitations so they can get more involved.

So, you might still be wondering… is donor burnout real?

Will there be donors who give once and never give again? Absolutely. But building a solid, trusted relationship with your donors through clear communication, faithful follow-through and genuine gratitude will ward off the dreaded burnout and keep their spirit of giving alive.

So don’t wait until the fire is out… let BDI show you how to ignite the spark and feed the flames for years to come!

Brewer Academy – led by Shellie Speer – offers personalized mentoring and consulting for nonprofits.

  • Shellie Speer

    Shellie Speer-Burnett, Senior Vice President, BDI Academy

    With over 30 years of partnership in Rescue Missions and nonprofit organizations, Shellie Speer-Burnett brings her expertise, counsel and philanthropic-centered passion to assist in furthering the work of BDI’s Rescue Mission clients. For 22 years of her career, she served as the Founder and President/CEO of her own agency, ENEX Group, which helped her clients capture hearts and donor loyalty in their communities.

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