Capital campaigns and donor fatigue: combatting your fears
Capital campaigns are big undertakings, for both you and your donors. They’re the ultimate testing ground for your donor stewardship tactics, as you’ll be asking for quite a lot—extra-large gifts, multi-year commitments, feasibility study interviews, and more. And that’s on top of the increased asks you’ve likely made in these tumultuous recent years.
It’s natural to fear donor fatigue during a capital campaign. Your worries are a sign that you deeply value your donors and want to see things from their perspectives, which is good.
But how worried should you really be? Detecting donor fatigue isn’t as simple as deciding that “X number of asks is too much,” since a full range of other relationship factors come into play. If you have solid stewardship tactics in place, your donor fatigue anxieties might be overblown.
So how can you reassure your team and guide their efforts in more productive directions? Start by understanding the root causes of donor fatigue.
The roots of donor fatigue
Does donor fatigue stem from simply asking donors for gifts too many times? It depends.
For donors, the deeper root cause is feeling as though you are asked again and again without being given a clear sense of what your money is making possible.
Communicating impact is the nonprofit’s responsibility, and it’s especially critical for capital campaigns anchored by high-value lead gifts.
After all, philanthropic investments are measured in impact rather than dollars alone. The more specific the impact you can point to, the better your donors will feel about their gifts and the less likely they will tire of being asked to give.
Combatting donor fatigue in capital campaigns
Rather than worrying that it will overburden potentially fatigued donors, see and use your campaign as an opportunity to reinspire them. Here are three foundational stewardship tactics to keep in mind before and during your next major campaign:
1. Anchor your messaging in impact.
To reiterate, the root of donor fatigue is failing to show donors the impact of their investments in your work.
Nail down exactly what gifts to your campaign make possible in your case for support. Will be you making new investments in buildings, equipment, or expertise? What will increased capacity mean for your organization and, more importantly, for your constituents?
Infuse this messaging into personalized communication with donors from the very start.
2. Get your donors involved.
Allow and encourage your donors to feel directly involved in your campaign. Get their perspectives and input early with a feasibility study and casual conversations with leadership. Once the campaign is underway, gauge their interest in joining committees as volunteers or hosting small events. Keep them in the loop from start to finish.
Involving your donors gets them invested and demonstrates the real energy and momentum that’s going towards making your campaign’s vision a reality.
3. Learn more about them.
Finally, your messaging needs to resonate with donors in personally meaningful ways. Do this by learning more about them, their interests, and their motivations for supporting your mission.
Here’s a quick exercise. Generate a list of your organization’s top donors and campaign prospects and try to answer these questions about each of them:
- Why does this donor give to our organization?
- What part of our program or mission appeals to this donor the most?
- How do they prefer to be asked?
If you can’t answer these questions or don’t actively track this information, that’s a sign that your organization might be treating donors more like ATMs than philanthropic partners—a relationship that can legitimately lead to donor fatigue and burnout.
If you can answer these questions, you have what you need to make personalized asks and shouldn’t be overly concerned with donor fatigue.
Going beyond capital campaigns
Although capital campaigns are the ultimate test of your ability to connect with donors, secure their buy-in, and overcome your donor fatigue fears, these tactics can apply to all of your fundraising and stewardship efforts.
To scale these best practices across your broader donor base, there are a number of things you can do:
- Build robust (and automated) messaging cadences to thank donors for their support and illustrate the impact that donations are having on the ground.
- Regularly seek donor input with surveys, Q&As, and other activities to show you’re listening.
- Continually look for new ways to better engage donors through different types of events, volunteer opportunities, messages, and partnerships.
- Use a CRM to track donor engagement data down to the individual level, and use this data to tailor your messaging.
When donors understand and are excited about the very real impact their money is having, they are not likely to get tired of giving. They may not give to every appeal, but they won’t mind your asking. You’ll be able to worry less about donor fatigue and focus more on deepening your relationships.