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Jory Pritchard-Kerr is executive director of the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital Foundation. (Richard Roth)
Jory Pritchard-Kerr is executive director of the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital Foundation. (Richard Roth)

GIVING

How charities are coping with 'donor fatigue' Add to ...

Each day that Jory Pritchard-Kerr walks through the corridors of Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, she’s reminded of the importance of her fundraising work.

“In this community, at this hospital and across Ontario at mid-sized hospitals, Ministry of Health funding is generally not sufficient to pay for equipment,” she says. “Close to 100 per cent of our equipment has been purchased through community support.”

Ms. Pritchard-Kerr is executive director of the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital Foundation, which raises funds for the aging facility, which has served the town of 20,000 people and surrounding communities since 1886. She will soon launch an ambitious capital campaign to raise $75-million of the more than $300-million needed to construct a new hospital nearby.

Much of that funding will come from local high-net-worth individuals, many of them deep-pocketed retirees who have chosen the four-seasons resort town north of Toronto as their golden-years landing spot.

“We’re in a real balancing act right now, especially with our major donors, saying, ‘Thanks for that $25,000 or $100,000 gift toward our surgical equipment campaign, but we’ll be reaching out to you again soon because we’re going into another major fundraising campaign,’” she explains.

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For Ms. Pritchard-Kerr and others, the advent of advanced data collection, e-mail marketing and communications tools such as social media have made outreach to wealthy donors easier and more effective than ever. But this technological revolution has come with new challenges.

Those same individuals, so generous with their funds and eager to make a mark, are being solicited with increasing frequency. Charitable organizations are thus adopting new tactics to ensure a continued stream of funding from wealthy donors who form the backbone of their fundraising activities.

“It’s really about ‘ask fatigue’ rather than giving fatigue,” says Anne Melanson, president of the Halifax-based fundraising consultancy Bloom Non-Profit Consulting Group Inc.

“I don’t find high-net-worth donors are tired of giving, but they’re feeling inundated and fatigued with the myriad requests for support that they receive from the charitable sector,” she says.

A 2014 study from BMO Financial Group on high-net-worth Canadians – those with investable assets of more than $1-million – found that 91 per cent had given to a charitable cause in the preceding year. The average donated was $5,217.

They said their prime motivations were passion for a cause and wanting to create a lasting impact in their community.

Interestingly, 43 per cent of poll respondents indicated a reluctance to contribute more, largely because they feared their donation may not be used efficiently, or that charities would continue asking for gifts in greater amounts. It’s an emerging reality that has influenced the fundraising strategy of organizations across Canada.

Ms. Pritchard-Kerr and her team have embraced what she calls a “layered approach” to connect with potential donors and raise awareness of the hospital’s needs. They host annual events and rely on limited mailings and e-mail blasts, since donor research has indicated a preference for minimal mail and electronic outreach.

They also use a sustained social media campaign that focuses on community impact through case studies. Highlighting the difference a donation can make, such as the purchase of medical equipment, has helped the foundation meet its goals.

So, too, has connecting with donors personally to build lasting relationships. “Major donations can’t be driven by what the charity needs but where the interest of that donor lies,” Ms. Pritchard-Kerr says.

Charities must spend more time and resources than before to secure large donations from wealthy donors, says Ottawa-based fundraising consultant Jenny Mitchell. They also need to quantify the impact of an eventual gift.

“The modern, emerging donor wants to know their gift is making a difference,” she says. “They want to be involved in the journey of their gift to the point where we’ll refer to them as ‘donor investors.’”

“The positive is that you have champions among donors who believe in your work, but the challenge is that it’s a much longer-term relationship,” Ms. Mitchell says. “The weeks and months and years of work put into that gift often are not seen.”

Charitable groups are improving their financial transparency, providing information on overhead and fundraising costs, for example, and working with donors to understand how they would like their gift used.

The key is to stand out among the more than 86,000 other charitable organizations across Canada angling for the same finite pool of funds, says Marina Glogovac, president and chief executive officer of the charity-advocacy group CanadaHelps.org in Toronto.

“It’s fundamental that every charity be very clear and develop their impact statements and a way to communicate what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and what they’re trying to achieve more clearly,” she says.

Maintaining that outreach takes time, according to Ms. Pritchard-Kerr, and perhaps even a counterintuitive approach. The best way for charities to gain support from high-net-worth individuals is to keep reaching out, she says, but not always with a hand out.

“It all boils down to a focus on authentic relationships,” she says. “It’s not about sales, it’s about getting to know people. Our largest gifts come when we don’t ask.”

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