3 Steps for Taking Back Control of Your Giving Against Donor Fatigue

3 Steps for Taking Back Control of Your Giving Against Donor Fatigue


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, that money doesn’t grow on trees, and you’re asking yourself, “when is enough, enough?”; you are asked to give to charity at the checkout, people on the street ask you to sign up and become a monthly donor to 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 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.

The fundraising tactic Give to Get

Did you know all the trinkets charities send you like stickers, cards and nickles, is a fundraising tactic called “Give to Get”?1 It is based on the psychology of reciprocity. You are wired to reciprocate. It is your moral conscience that, when someone gives you something, you give back. So when a charity sends you "stuff" it triggers this instinct to reciprocate. You make a donation back to the charity. That’s what makes all these direct mailings from charities work so effectively. 

It is very expensive. And charity’s fundraising costs go sky high (only Canada’s biggest charities can afford mass mailings). Yet it is 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?

Are you giving to what you really care about? Now take a second hard look at your list of charities. Do the charities you give to match your passions? Too often, we give to charities simply because they ask us for money, not because these are the causes that matter deeply to us. Our giving is passive. We give to those who ask and fundraise. We can change this by being more active in our giving.

Edit your list – be a discerning donor. When you scratch off some charities this makes room to give more to other charities. There isn't a right number of charities. Some Canadians have more than 15 charities on their list they give to each year. On average, Canadians give to seven charities each year. Rather than the number of charities, it is the quality of the charities you 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”.

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


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

This article was prepared for CBC Radio Blue Sky call-in show, October 2016



1. Give to Get marketing and fundraising strategy Robert B. Cialdini's book 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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Charity Intelligence researches Canadian charities for donors to be informed and give intelligently. Our website posts free reports on more than 800 Canadian charities, as well as in-depth primers on philanthropic sectors like Canada’s environment, cancer, and homelessness. Today over 500,000 Canadians use our website as a go-to source for information on Canadian charities reading over 1.6 million charity reports. Through rigorous and independent research, Charity Intelligence aims to assist Canada’s dynamic charitable sector in being more transparent, accountable and focused on results.


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