Don't assume lack of donations is down to donor fatigue, says Giving Tuesday lead

Asha Curran of the New York-based community body 92Y tells the International Fundraising Congress that the sector has to ask itself if it's engaging with people on an outdated set of assumptions

Asha Curran (Photograph: Getty Images)
Asha Curran (Photograph: Getty Images)

The global charity sector needs to re-examine how it engages with donors, rather than assuming that a lack of donations is caused by donor fatigue, according to the fundraiser who leads the Giving Tuesday movement in the US.

Speaking at the opening of the International Fundraising Congress in the Netherlands yesterday, Asha Curran, chief innovation officer at the New York-based community organisation 92Y, said the sector had to consider whether it was using an outdated model that was not fully engaging supporters.

She said 2017 had been an interesting year for fundraising in the US because of a series of major disasters, including Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Harvey and a number of school shootings. It led many US fundraisers to believe that the public would succumb to "donor fatigue" and stop giving.

But Curran said that people "got out their wallets and they gave again and again in record amounts".

She added: "So it provoked us to look at each other and ask is donor fatigue even a thing or is this something that we tell ourselves so that we’re not asking how we can better engage with the people we need to be a part of our world?

"Are we engaging with people on their terms, or are we engaging with people on a set of assumptions and best practices that we’ve been holding on to for decades?"

Fundraising was often based on an old, top-down model, involving guilt and shame, she said. Instead, Curran argued, it could be a "celebration of the positive impact that we can each have on the causes that we care about; the freedom to express generosity on our own terms and talk about what it means in our own communities".

In her experience, she said, people were more likely to continue giving if giving was "associated with great positivity, but also greater co-ownership. Are you giving people a chance to write you a cheque or click on you donate button, or to really become engaged with your cause?"

Curran said that the sector had to be more prepared to communicate, network and share ideas globally in order to tackle common challenges.

Her fellow plenary speaker, Katy Grennier, chief executive of the Thailand-based charity consultancy DSIL Global, warned that the sector also had to make more of an effort to engage with beneficiaries.

Speaking about her own experiences growing up in the US care system, Grennier said she did not feel she had benefited from great ideas or resources, and had been made to feel as though she were "being used to fulfil someone’s ticket to heaven or an easy life".

She told delegates: "Surely we know that beneficiaries are more than moments they share with us. Surely we know that including them in the process to become more than just their stories is important and they can actually help us create programming or design innovation.

"Surely we know that’s the right thing to do, not just the nice thing."

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