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Donor Fatigue vs. The Surprising Half Life of Gratitude

on Mar 14, 2016

Donor Fatigue vs. The Surprising Half Life of Gratitude

In the video above, Steven Johnson and Brian Eno have a short, fascinating conversation about the nature of surprise in art and music.

Eno suggests that in every piece of art you experience, you experience it in the context of each piece of art you’ve seen up to that point. He uses jokes and punchlines as an analogy, that a punchline makes sense because of the setup. Without that preamble, the punchline means little, if anything, and is very unlikely to be funny.

Johnson and Eno are both fascinated with how a joke loses it’s element of surprise after you hear it once, whereas piece of music we love can be revisited time and again and still be surprised by.

The human desire for gratitude replenishes at an astonishingly fast rate.

And this is what I want you to take away from this clip. Like music and art, gratitude has an incredibly long half life. The opportunity to surprise and delight donors simply by saying thank you is present more often than you might think.

How you say thank you to a donor is an inextricable from the experience of giving as a punch line from a joke. One without the other makes little sense, and is rarely meaningful without context.

As fundraisers, what we should all consider as well, is that the gratitude we show donors is being experienced, like art, differently by every donor. Every form of gratitude that they’ve experienced throughout their life is informing how they interpret, value, and respond to our gratitude in that moment.

What does this mean for fundraisers in practical terms?

I’m not sure. But I get the sense, as I have for a few years now, that our donors are best served by a sector-wide understanding of fundamentals first, application second, innovation third.

Donor fatigue is a theory I’ve never believed in. Largely, because I don’t think people get tired of giving. I think they get tired of uninspired, cookie-cutter solicitations that lack personal significance. And if we’re doing our job poorly, an accusatory finger should be pointed inwardly, not at the general public.

Maybe you’re the one that is tired of fundraising, not donors.

If there is a root cause for donor fatigue, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the donor. The problem is you, your organization, and something you’re doing wrong.

Not every donor is going to give to you every year from now until the day they die, no matter how good your appeals are. Good fundraisers plan for this, and have strategies and contingencies in place so budgets continue to be met. Good fundraisers don’t blame it on a mysterious bogeyman by the name of donor fatigue.

Every time you or I interact with a donor, we add a brushstroke to their ever-evolving personal experience of philanthropy, service and gratitude. We’re adding a line to the story, and when done well, we all stand to gain – especially the donor. We can empower them to change lives. They’ll have never felt better.

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