The Surprising Truth About Donor Fatigue And What Nonprofits Can Do To Avoid It | Beth's Blog

The Surprising Truth About Donor Fatigue And What Nonprofits Can Do To Avoid It

Philanthropy

Photo by Fuel Relief Fund on GlobalGiving

Note from Beth:  With the hurricanes, gun violence, and fires, I gave generously, including donations to Global Giving funds.  I surpassed my giving budget for disaster relief giving.  However, I still plan to make my year-end gifts (during Giving Tuesday), but I couldn’t help but wonder about donor fatigue and if there will be any impact on year-end campaigns. 

Alison Carlman, Director of Impact and Communications at Global Giving, offers a deep dive into some Global Giving data to find the answer. It will surprise you.

The Surprising Truth About Disaster Donor Fatigue – guest post by Alson Carlman, Global Giving

Disaster relief organizations have been working around the clock to respond to seven catastrophic disasters in the past two months. But that doesn’t mean the important, ongoing charitable work in communities suddenly becomes less urgent. As nonprofits prepare for the upcoming giving season, many fundraisers are understandably concerned about donor fatigue. Dreadful disaster stories are still making headlines; isn’t the public tired of giving?

After hearing anecdotal reports of the recent disasters receiving wildly different donation totals (like this and this and this), my team at GlobalGiving looked into data from our own crowdfunding community to determine if whether we’re seeing donor fatigue. And we have good news: our data looks different. Looking at donation totals to thousands of nonprofits around the world and covering each of six major disasters over the past two months, we’re not seeing major evidence of donor fatigue. We approached the question from several angles, and we’re not seeing the public’s giving interest or ability waning. Here’s what we saw:

1: Giving to disasters hasn’t decreased over the past two months.

There isn’t a decline over time in disaster donation totals from the past two months. Donors have given about equal amounts to Hurricane Harvey ($4.0M since Aug.) as they have to the recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico + the Caribbean ($4.6M since Sept.). Rather than seeing a decline over time, we’re seeing disaster fundraising closely correlating to media coverage of the disaster. The compassion of people to help their fellow citizens in times of crisis is truly inspiring!

2: Overall donation totals have actually increased year-over-year on GlobalGiving.
We compared overall giving in 2016 to 2017, and we’ve actually seen significantly more giving this year than last year to date. This trend is the same for both our non-disaster projects, ($5.3M YTD in 2016 compared to $9.2M in 2017) and disaster projects ($1.7M YTD in 2016 vs $10.6M in 2017).

3: Nonprofits around the world are still successful in meeting funding goals for other causes.
Our Accelerator participants have been more successful than past cohorts, despite the fact that their crowdfunding campaigns started the same time that Irma made landfall in Florida. We had more than 600 nonprofits from 88 countries working hard to meet a $5,000 goal in our quarterly Accelerator program this month. This cohort was more successful than any other group in GlobalGiving history.

4. Repeat giving rates haven’t changed.
7.2% of people who gave to one of the disasters above have given to another disaster over the last two months. This is compared with 7.3% repeat rate among our non-disaster projects during the same time this year, and 6.3% among non-disaster projects in the same period of 2016.

5.Donors aren’t demonstrating that they’re tired of our appeals.
We haven’t seen any decrease in email engagement rates (nor an increase in unsubscribes!) between our Sierra Leone Mudslides appeal in August and our Harvey, Irma, and Mexico earthquake appeals in September.

6. There may even be evidence that giving spurs more giving.
We’ve seen that donations increased to lesser-covered disasters when other similar disasters were covered by the media. For example, we saw that donations to the South Asia Floods (starting August 17) increased after Harvey Floods led the headlines in August 28-20.

What You Can Do To Prevent Donor Fatigue

Even if there’s not evidence yet of donor fatigue, we should stay vigilant about nurturing meaningful relationships with donors right now. During humanitarian crises, nonprofits depend on human empathy to raise funds quickly to help those in need. According to Caring In Crisis research, ‘hit and run’-type disaster appeals might work in the short term, but fundraising without focusing on relationships can cause collateral damage, making donors feel dehumanized, helpless, and cynical in the long term. The research suggests there are ways nonprofits can help to avoid donor fatigue. GlobalGiving and our partners have been focusing on these three strategies:

1:Keep information emotionally manageable:
The identifiable victim effect is important to remember. The story of the one named person being rescued from the rubble in Mexico is easier for donors to handle than the thought of a whole school or city in distress. Appeals that are very specific, actionable, and emotionally manageable are more effective. Even just ensuring donors that their donation will go to help people affected by a specific disaster in a specific area can go a long way.

2:Ensure proposed solutions are cognitively meaningful and morally significant to donors:
If donors can see the difference they’re making, their perspective on the whole situation changes. GlobalGiving sends very specific updates about how donations are used. This makes a donation feel less like a transaction and more like the beginning of a relationship. How do we know this works? After people read reports about how funds are used, they actually are happier with their donation. We see an increase in Net Promoter Scores—akin to satisfaction ratings—after donors read reports (compared to immediately after their donation).

3: Provide meaningful opportunities for donors give feedback:
We have pages and pages of responses to email updates that look like this:

“I can’t tell you how good it is to get an email actually updating me on the funding received overall and further, detailing where and to whom the funds are going. Thank you for making it easy for me to help you help others.”

“I know that the funds are being used by local groups on the ground, and that as the situation and needs evolve, the funds will continue to be distributed to the groups that are best equipped to meet those needs.”

Donors want to be able to ask questions and give feedback as part of the relationship with your cause.

We’ll be watching to see if these strategies will help convert some of our one-time disaster donors into more loyal repeat donors in the future, and we’ll continue to monitor to see how long-term giving trends are affected by these disasters.

The Takeaway
What’s the best approach as we all prepare for #GivingTuesday and year-end fundraising? Don’t get discouraged! Instead, stick to what we know works: tell specific, compelling, emotionally manageable stories. Provide safe and easy ways for people to engage in a way that feels significant to them. And create meaningful feedback loops with updates from the ground and opportunities for donors to share their thoughts. I’d also recommend that you don’t ignore the disasters altogether in your communications this month, but find ways to make connections around shared human values.

So take heart! Your work is important, and we believe you can harness this spirit of human kindness and generosity that’s beginning to thrive and channel it toward your earth-changing work this giving season.


Alison is the director of impact and communications at GlobalGiving.

3 Responses

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  3. Tim Chaten says:

    Great post Alison, good to see the stats in the current environment. It may help fundraisers to have more empathy by experiencing what they experience – https://imarketsmart.com/fundraisers-today-you-have-a-chance-to-feel-exactly-how-your-donors-feel/

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