January 2020 – Lauriane Lebrun, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

According to John Haydon, “donor remorse” is a sinking feeling of doubt a person experiences relative to their decision to give money to an organization.  You’ve probably heard of donor remorse’s close relative, “buyer’s remorse.”  The Hustle reports that approximately 82% of people have felt this sense of guilt or regret after making a purchase.  What initially seems like a good idea turns into a series of nagging fears: Will I ever use this thing I just bought?  Is this really the best way to spend my money?  Maybe I should have bought ______ instead?

In theory, the feel-good oxytocin boost that comes from donating to those in need, rather than making a purchase for oneself, should override the Buyer’s Remorse Blues.  But real-world stories show this simply isn’t true.  Sometimes, people donate because they feel obligated or “guilted into it.”  Or they may like the idea of giving back, but worry their donation won’t have any meaningful impact.

From the perspective of the nonprofit, you are receiving a donation either way – whether the donor feels all warm and fuzzy about it or not.  But, as Erik Anderson of DonorDreams explains, donor remorse “ties directly back to the idea of donor retention.  When making a remorseful gift, the odds of the charity getting gift number two from me [are] extremely low.  Since the non-profit organization most likely doesn’t know this (because they can’t read my mind), they are most likely about to embark on an expensive journey of trying to renew my support.”

So, what can you do to prevent donor remorse?

  • Cultivate a meaningful case for support – and make sure it is actually being used by your fundraisers.  Erik Anderson’s aforementioned article describes the common problem of volunteers “fall[ing] back on the familiar fundraising pitch where they ask their friends to do them a solid favor by supporting their favorite charity,” rather than presenting a case that truly inspires the potential donor.  “The Ask,” Anderson explains, should “paint a picture of need” and describe how donating to “the cause would help address the need or make the world a better place.”  If the feelings of doubt that lead to donor remorse are to be avoided, the donor needs to know that their gift will make a real-world impact.
  • Have a plan.  Does your board really know what to do when someone makes a donation?  As this article from MissionBox recommends, a specific person should be designated to contact major donors, guidelines should be in place regarding how frequently donors will be contacted, and a procedure should be developed for handling any potential problems.
  • Report back within 90 days (or sooner).  Thanking major donors once is not enough – they also want to hear how their gift was used.  The John Haydon article referenced above explains that following up within 90 days of a donation increases donor retention.
  • Negate doubts with answers.  As soon as a donation is made, the decision to give back should be reinforced by gratitude and specific details regarding the impact of the donation.  This means that your Thank You page for online donations, as well as the emails/letters you send to acknowledge donations, should all include this messaging.  Here are some articles to help you craft the perfect Thank You messages for your donors:

The Lexian Management newsletter is for informational purposes only.

Always consult your attorney, accountant, and/or insurance provider to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or concern.