02.23.23 5 min

Leveraging your data to combat donor fatigue

Natasia Langfelder

Content Marketing Manager


Imagine this – your loyal $25 a month donor suddenly stops their monthly donations. Or the ROI on the LYBUNT (Last Year But Unfortunately Not This Year) segment of your calendar year end appeal is lower that it has been in over a decade. Or the “unsubscribe” rate on your e-appeals is on the rise. One possible reason for any of these? Donor fatigue.

What is Donor Fatigue?

Donor fatigue is the idea that donors grow tired of hearing the same ask from an organization that they were once loyal to and stop giving in the same patterns they historically did. But does this mean the end of your organization’s relationship with a donor? No. It means it’s time to tell a new story.

What Can Cause Donor Fatigue?

Too often, nonprofit professionals are faced with competing priorities – they have monthly and annual goals tied to visits and asks and dollars; however, the savvy fundraiser knows that the key to long-term success is consistent and creative donor engagement. Just like any relationship, fundraising professionals need to put in the work so that their “partner” doesn’t get bored or feel disconnected, which is sometimes difficult when you simply want to get out as much as possible to make your goals. The challenge is keeping the relationship fresh while meeting your metrics. One key to that is engaging storytelling that casts the donor in the leading role.

How to Re-engage your Lapsed Donors

It is important to recognize that not all donors play the same role. That’s where segmentation comes into play. There are traditional segments – LYBUNTs are key when we want to sustain a base level of annual support; SYBUNTs (Some Year But Unfortunately Not This) help us build on that base with donors who have expressed an interest through their giving in the past; retired donors who are updating their estate plans could be primed for a conversation about a charitable gift annuity or charitable remainder trust; middle-aged donors may be at a point in their philanthropic journey where they are ready to become your next major gift donor; and young philanthropists to help get new, younger donors on board with your mission to create the base of sustaining donors of the next 25 years. These are all great segments to start with, depending on what your goals are.

But if you are seeing a drop off in the number of donors who are making their annual gifts, it may be time to change the way you segment your prospect pool to better personalize the story. And data makes that possible!

The Right Story and the Right Audience – Storytelling Using Data

Just like in any relationship, a donor-nonprofit relationship can hit a rut. That’s when the creative side of storytelling becomes increasingly important. You don’t want your donor partner to lose interest. You need to remind them why they began the relationship with your organization in the first place. The key is often reminding them of the impact THEY are making.

Using Anecdotal Data

Sometimes when the donor-nonprofit relationship hits this rut, it’s time to pick up the phone. Choose a select group of annual donors and have a conversation with them. What has inspired their gift year after year? How would they like to see their role as a supporter of your organization grow? What is their favorite outcome of giving to your organization? All of that information you gather can then be used to reframe the story that you tell to other like-minded donors.

Perhaps you learn that an event you held a few years back seemed to resonate with donors who were in attendance. Now you can pull them out as a subsegment of your LYBUNT and share a follow-up story about the beneficiary of funds raised by that event.

Or, maybe you learned that they support your organization because they have a passion for the music education funding you provide to local youth groups and want to ensure that all kids have access. You again create a subsegment of similar donors and email them a link to a recording of a youth orchestra that their past gifts supported.

Sometimes you will get very lucky and a donor will share their own story about why they began supporting your organization and their personal link to your mission. With their permission, you can ask them if they are willing to share their story with potential new donors.

Using Zero, First, and Third-Party Data

Anecdotal data is data you obtain through close relationships with individual donors. This data can be pretty hard to obtain. But you can achieve similar results by diligently collecting zero and first-party data on your donors. Zero-party data is data that is shared directly and proactively by your donors with you, it could be about their preferences, interests, and/or intent. You can gather this information through tactics like surveys, preference centers, or polls. First-party data is data collected by marketers about their donor’s contact information and engagement with your nonprofit such as account history, email activity, web behavior. Third-party data, is data collected by third-party data providers, like Data Axle, that do not have a direct relationship with the consumer. The data is gathered from various real-world channels, platforms, apps, etc. and can provide insights into the demographic makeup of your donors as well as other interesting attributes that can help fine-tune your messaging.

Using this data on your donors means you can better personalize the story you are telling. You can meet them where they are on their giving journey, use language that resonates with them and reach them on the channels where they are most active.

Building Your Omnichannel Approach

Referencing “The Donor Mindset Study III”, The Nonprofit Times reported that all age groups felt that direct mail was the best method for telling an organization’s story and sharing facts. However, if you break down the data by age groups, donors under 35 enjoy the storytelling in direct mail at a slightly higher percent than email, but prefer email for fact sharing. Donors over 35 prefer direct mail for both storytelling and fact sharing. While that may lead you to think direct mail is the way to go for your 35 and over donors, additional data shows that unopened direct mail is discarded at double the rate of an unopened email and all donors recognized the increased cost to an organization that comes with direct mail. This reinforces that idea that we need to vary our outreach methods to reach our donors, determine ROI for your segments based on solicitation method and track that to use to further personalize your outreach in the next cycle.

Over the past decade, the role of social media in donor acquisition and retention has grown increasingly important as well. A well-timed social media campaign, that launches prior to a direct mail or email campaign, can draw attention to your efforts with potential donors. Once they see your launch on social, they will have a better idea of what that email or direct mail piece is about, increasing your open rate. It’s important to start with the donor in mind first and their experience and build around that vs. just taking a channel-first approach. The story you tell is irrelevant if it is not read, afterall.

But there are so many social media platforms! Where do you start? In 2021, the Pew Research Center collected data to see who is hanging out where online. The good news is, you don’t have to be everywhere. Their data shows that over 70% of social media users over the age of 18 use Facebook and over 80% use YouTube. These two platforms are used at double and triple the rate of other social media platforms.

If you don’t already have a robust social media effort, these are the places to start. Not only can social media campaigns raise awareness, but a study by Get Response found that when your campaign is shared by others on social media, the open and click through rate for emails increases over 150%! While you may not have the ability to segment your social media campaigns the way you can with email, the increased open rate of your segmented emails that are sent after your social media campaign launches can only help increase your returns.

Making the Ask

Now that you know more about your past donors that haven’t recently donated, you are prepared to re-engage them. You have your new stories, and you launched your omnichannel campaign. What now?

Now you make the ask for another donation.

Perhaps you are approaching a group of professionals in their late 20s and early 30s. Their average household income is $100,000. You can start by connecting to the story from your ad campaign, highlighting a particular story that looks like it should resonate based on the zero-party data you collected. You can also feature another donor in this same demographic group to make a personal statement to make a connection, such as “I made my first gift of $50 for the ABC Organization two years ago and already see the impact. Join me by giving $50 today.”

A solid call to action, with an ask amount, will help the donor understand what you are asking them to be a part of. If you don’t ask, it is easier for a prospect to choose to not give.

In Conclusion

Data is the tool you need in your toolkit to prevent data fatigue. Having deep knowledge of your donors – such as what channels they are active on and the stories that will compel them to give, are crucial to ensure they remain tied to your mission.

Need help getting started? We’re here. Contact us.


Natasia Langfelder

Thanks for reading

Written by Natasia Langfelder, Content Marketing Manager

With a passion for writing and an enthusiasm for data and tech, Natasia creates content designed to deliver nuggets of wisdom to help nonprofits elevate their data governance.