The College Donor Digest

Inspiring Stories to Help Overcome Donor Fatigue

November 19, 2021 | Emily Burden Rees

Giving Tuesday kicks off the busiest philanthropic season of the year. Donors and nonprofits alike intensify the search for potential partners five days after Thanksgiving, ushering in a month of hurried donations before year’s end. It’s the heyday (month) of philanthropic matchmaking. 

This round of year-end giving comes amidst a new phenomenon that has been dubbed ‘pandemic burnout,’ a version of burnout caused by the pandemic's uncertainty and sustained mental and emotional stress. It’s been almost two years since COVID-19, and Americans are collectively weary. 

This feeling of exhaustion may feel familiar to philanthropists, who have been warding off ‘donor fatigue’ long before 2020. Charity Navigator published an article on this issue in 2005 and again in 2010. Fundraisers observed that high levels of requests for donations, either from the same organization or across multiple organizations, took a toll on donors. Some donors responded by giving less or less often. Decisions that involve finances, emotions, and urgent needs create the perfect atmosphere for exhaustion.  

Already burned out from the ongoing pandemic, donors are now facing down the busiest giving (and asking) season of the year. To help donors navigate this fatigue, the team at the Fund for Academic Renewal (FAR) gathered four examples of inspirational gifts that serve as a reminder of the life-changing differences effective giving can make.  

John Altman received a transformational gift as a young man that made it possible for him to attend Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. FAR interviewed Dr. Altman about how the legacy of that gift inspired him to create the John W. Altman Institute for Entrepreneurship at his alma mater.   

Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, dedicates a webpage to highlighting the impact of student scholarships. It features scholarship recipients from undergraduates to Ph.D. students, some of whom, like John Altman, would have foregone college without the donors that made their scholarships possible. On the webpage, donors also share their motivation for paying it forward.  

Donations often come from alumni and corporate leaders, but one Bloomsburg University bequest came from John Enman, professor emeritus of geography at the university. His passion for geographical sciences began when he served as an Army Air Corps cartographer in World War II. Dr. Enman’s legacy will upgrade equipment and fund field experiences for students.  

Dr. Mary Lou Hubbardcreated a scholarship at Eastern Illinois University in the name of her mother, Eileen F. Hubbard, who began college in 1934 but could only complete two years due to financial constraints. The scholarship goes to an upper-division undergraduate in financial need who embodies Eileen’s values of leadership, service, and academic success.  

We hope that these stories motivate donors like you to power through pandemic burnout and fatigue as you seek to keep supporting the best our colleges and universities have to offer. May we all feel more generous and grateful during this season of giving. 


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The Fund for Academic Renewal is a program of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a not-for-profit, tax-exempt organization as defined by Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. All contributions to FAR are fully tax-deductible to the maximum extent provided by law.