Monday, January 25, 2010

Is It Time To Talk About Donor Fatigue?

After the massive outpouring of generosity for the Asian Tsunami and the Hurricane Katrina victims, many charities were concerned about donor fatigue. What’s donor fatigue? It is the concept that donors who gave to Tsunami and Katrina related charities weren’t going to respond to requests for donations from other charities that they normally would support --- either because they weren’t motivated to give again or because they didn’t have additional funds to give.

Thankfully, after the Tsunami and Katrina everyone was pleasantly surprised at the level of giving in America. The data showed that donors continued to support other charities. In fact, it appears that the devastation caused by Katrina inspired Americans to support charities that help the poor in their own communities. As a result, giving to human services charities actually increased more than 11% (excluding for disaster related gifts) from 2004 to 2005. This is tremendous because the percentage of giving directed to such charities has historically been low as compared to other types of nonprofits (such as religious and education charities).

But, that was then and this is now. And now we’re in a recession. Giving to charities was down 5.7% from 2007 to 2008 --- the biggest decline in giving in 50+ years of tracking such data. And many in the sector are predicting that donations will be down again this year. Many would even say that charities helping the poor are struggling the most! These charities could really use a bump in giving like they saw in 2005. But given the state of the economy and how much donors are giving to Haiti, we very well may be talking about donor fatigue in the months to come.

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