Donor fatigue is a phenomenon in which people no longer give to charities, although they have donated in the past. There are a number of causes for donor fatigue, including pressure to donate, overstretched budgets, and frustration with mis-managed charities and donation campaigns. Many charities work hard to avoid donor fatigue, since it negatively impacts their collected funds for the year. There are an assortment of ways in which donor fatigue can be avoided by both donors and charities.
The most benign cause of donor fatigue is simply budget exhaustion. Many people who engage in charitable giving set aside a specific budget every year for this purpose. When the budget runs out, they are no longer able to donate. Events like natural disasters can wipe out the donation budget of a charitable household, as was the case in 2005 when people donated to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Rita followed hard on Katrina's heels. Donors wanted to help, but they did not have the financial wherewithal to do so.
Smaller regionally based charities often suffer from donor fatigue after major disasters. In the United States, for example, many people donated to victim's funds after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Although their funds certainly helped someone somewhere, their donations took money out of their communities, and many small charities reported a downturn in donations for the fourth quarter of 2001 as a result.
In other instances, people grow frustrated with constant appeals for donation. Charities which constantly send out mailers, hold phone drivers, and use other tactics to ask for donations can tap out the patience of their potential donors, who start to feel irritated, rather than philanthropic. Many charities try to stick to one major campaign a year for this reason, although donations are of course welcome year round.
Finally, some donors grow frustrated when they donate to charities and nothing seems to happen, or when the charity seems to be really mismanaged. Constant changes in staff, campaign approaches, and management are all signs that a charity may be in trouble, and donors may prefer to send their funds to causes which actually seem to be working. This can be frustrating for nascent charities, which are unable to do any good work because they don't have enough funds.
Charities can take steps to avoid donor fatigue such as launching limited, concise campaigns and demonstrating the work that they do for interested donors. Donors can avoid feeling overstretched by setting a precise budget for charitable donations, and being unafraid to say that they have already given when they are asked for donations which exceed their budgets. It is also a good idea to look up charitable organizations to ensure that they are legitimate if you care about how your donations are used.
Donors may also want to consider that fact that donations do not have to be in cash alone. Donors can offer things like blood to the Red Cross, which always needs blood donations, and goods such as canned foods, blankets, books, and old clothing to a variety of causes, from churches to food banks.