When faced with “compassion fatigue,” non-profit fundraisers may need new strategies

By David H. Kirkwood

This is the time of year when our mailboxes overflow with urgent pleas for donations from every good cause we’ve ever contributed to. And, for every non-profit organization that we’ve helped in the past, we probably hear from half a dozen other charitable groups that have identified us as good candidates to send money for their efforts on behalf of disease and famine victims around the world, homeless animals, cancer research, the environment, local arts organizations, and on and on and on.

These end-of-the-year campaigns raise a great deal of money for thousands of worthy causes. That’s wonderful, because the need for charitable giving is enormous.

However, the flood of requests for contributions can also result in what is sometimes referred to as “compassion fatigue.” Even people who are generous and altruistic by nature sometimes reach their limit of giving, especially if they are hard-pressed financially to meet their own needs.

When they open their fifth envelope of the day containing yet another photograph of a starving child or an abused kitten that will die without their financial support, people can feel overwhelmed. Knowing that anything they can give will be not even a drop in the bucket of what’s needed, they may throw their hands up in the air and give nothing at all.



The risk of provoking compassion fatigue is not a reason for well-meaning non-profit organizations to quit asking for money. But I think it should move them to consider alternative approaches to appeal to people who have reached their limit for year-end giving.

I came across one such strategy in an online article about the Lake Drive Foundation for Children Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The foundation, based in Mountain Lakes, NJ, is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that children with hearing loss get the services they need, regardless of their families’ ability to pay.

Through a variety of programs, the foundation raises money for the Sound Start Program. Sound Start has helped more than 1000 deaf and hearing-impaired infants and toddlers from throughout northern and central New Jersey learn to listen, speak, and develop the communication skills to achieve in school and succeed as adults.

One way the foundation raises funds is by offering people a no-cost way to donate to the cause at the same time they are shopping for holiday gifts or for items for themselves. All they have to do is go to the Lake Drive Foundation web site and then click on links to Amazon, Overstock, or iGive. Whatever they purchase at these sites, up to 10% of the price is automatically donated to the Sound Start Program.

iGive specializes in combining shopping with giving. It offers access to products from more than 1000 popular retailers, including Barnes & Noble, Staples, Macy’s, Home Depot, Lands End, and Bed Bath and Beyond. Since 1997, shoppers using iGive have donated over $6.5 million to some 50,000 not-for-profit causes.

Sueanne Sylvester, who handles Lake Drive Foundation’s fundraising activities, introduced this painless approach to donating to Sound Start. “I think it has great potential,” she told this blog. “It’s quite easy to set up.” Best of all, she said, “It’s a great way for people to make donations with money they would be spending anyway.”



I’m glad that this approach is working for Sound Start. In my opinion, in the whole spectrum of efforts to help people with hearing loss, none are more valuable than programs that reach children when they are very young—young enough that with the proper care they can have the same prospects for success and happiness in life as their normal-hearing classmates.

There are a great many other non-profit organizations that raise funds, either on a regional or a national scale, to help people overcome the challenges of hearing loss. I hope they will take a look at what the Lake Drive Foundation is doing and see if they might benefit from incorporating this “shop for better hearing” strategy into their fundraising efforts.