October 3, 2016

Kate Bahen, Managing Director

Talking points for CBC Radio Blue Sky call-in show

How to Beat Back Donor Fatigue and Take Back Control of Your Giving

Donor fatigue is that feeling of being inundated with mailings from too many charities or the same charity – you gave in May, and there’s another ask for money in September, and there’s sure to be another ask in the Giving Season of November and December.

You have that nagging feeling charities don’t recognize that giving is a limited resource – money doesn’t grow on trees – and you’re asking yourself, “when is enough, enough?”; you are asked to give to charity at the check out, people on the street ask to sign you up for a worthy cause, and your mailbox is full with charity requests. If you feel these symptoms, that’s donor fatigue – and you’re not alone.

This donor fatigue is leading to what some criticize as donors being stingy, critical and skeptical. Charity Intelligence sees it differently – being picky about your giving is a good thing. Canadians should be discerning about which charities they give to.

Canadians need to be informed about their giving. Did you know all the trinkets charities send you – the stickers, the cards – that’s a fundraising tactic called “Give to Get”?1 It’s based on the psychology of reciprocity. When a charity gives you something, you are naturally wired to reciprocate – it’s in your moral conscience to donate back. That’s what makes all these direct mailings from charities work so effectively.  It’s very expensive, a charity’s fundraising costs go sky high (only Canada’s biggest charities can afford mass mailings), yet it’s an amazingly successful marketing ploy. 48% of charity mailings get donations back2. And that’s why charities do so many mailings –– it brings in the money. So understand that the trinkets and gifts are a fundraising game. You choose whether you play the fundraising game or not.

3 Steps to Take Back Control of Your Giving.

Step 1: It’s really boring but basic – have a budget.  How much are you giving to charity each year? Add up what you gave last year. You will likely find that you are far more generous than you imagined.

Step 2: Which charities are you going to give to?

Make a list of the charities you gave to last year Now look at your list. How many of these charities are national charities, how many are local frontline charities – your food bank, your church, your boys and girls club, your seniors services. How many are international charities?

Now take a second hard look at your list of charities. Do the charities you give to match your passions? Is your money going to causes you really care about? Too often, we give to charities simply because they ask us for money, not because these are the causes that matter deeply to us.

Edit your list – be a discerning donor. Scratch off some charities, making room for other charities that you would like to support.

Step 3: Do your research. Use Charity Intelligence’s free research reports on Canadian charities – Charity Intelligence has reports on all the big charities, those that pay for the expensive mailings. www.charityintelligence.ca use the A-Z Index to see all the charity reports, or use the search box for keyword searches like “your town”, “province”, “food banks”.

Charity Intelligence also has research reports on 17 charities based in Saskatchewan.

Give to yourself the time to give intelligently. Be informed and get the facts on a charity before you give.

CBC News article Donors don't like charity [swag] but it works


1. Give to Get marketing and fundraising strategy Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion - How to trigger the "Yes" response, 1984

2. Eden Stiffman, "1 in 3 Rich Donors Held Their Philanthropy Back" The Chronicle of Philanthropy, August 30, 2016 article reporting on the Cygnus Applied Research, 2016 Donor Behaviour Report on US donors "Asked what it would take to persuade them to give more than planned, [US donors said] charities could explain that they face extraordinary needs, reduce their overhead expenses, stop sending unwanted gifts or trinkets in direct-mail appeals, and reduce the volume of solicitations". 


3. ibid: "Direct mail remains the most common way donors give but it is declining: 44% of donors gave in response to direct mail in 2015, down from 48% in 2010."

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