The Cure for Donor Fatigue: Start with the Soul

Let’s assume you’re one of those people who sets aside money for charitable causes/tithing/etc.

When you sit down to write your checks, do you choose devastated and ignored Japan? Famished Africa? Recovering Haiti? Or the cancer walk your niece is helping to plan?

If you’re like many people in 2011, you get overwhelmed, annoyed, and then pick none of the above.

According to the The Cygnus Donor Survey, Americans planned to give the same or more this year to charitable causes than 2010. But while charitable giving has risen slightly in the last year, it has also started to peak. Now new surveys report that US donors are actually cutting back, due to the economy and something called donor fatigue.

Aid groups working on the front line in Africa say that donor fatigue has drastically stalled their funding for famine victims and meant slower and less effective response efforts. People are tired of giving. Too many natural disasters, diseases, local tragedies and global wars have zapped our resources, financially and emotionally.

But we have a powerful antidote: you can cure donor fatigue by starting with your soul.

Let’s start by redefining, or dropping completely, the words “donor” and “donation.” A donation connotes that you give but get nothing in exchange. In actuality, giving with your soul means that you might pick up more in the long run than the recipient. You get the opportunity to connect with your world, to care for and nurture a stranger, and to grow your own capacity to love generously.

It bothers me to hear people talk about “dealing with our problems at home first.” It never dawns on us that, in taking on other people’s problems we cure many of our own by healing our greed, apathy and ignorance.

To be clear, I’m not talking about government spending. I’m talking about my budget. I’m talking about going without butter for a week or not roasting that chicken because rice is cheaper and we have world-saving to do.

I’m also not talking about white guilt, or any other guilt for that matter. I’m talking about a willingness to take on other people’s burdens out of love, and thus guilt-free.

If you connect your soul to your giving, a few things will probably happen:

  • You will limit to what/whom you give.
  • You will become much more aware of the problems you are helping to solve.
  • You will discover your own priorities in giving and thus understand yourself better.
  • You will want to give more.

To develop soul-deep giving, start by using your resources wisely. Find two or three things that you are passionate about seeing changed. Don’t worry so much about the other things, for now – the donation jars at the grocery store, the annual walks and benefits. Those might come later. For now give wholeheartedly but carefully.

Try to be creative as you give to these limited causes. Avoid having anything taken out of your account automatically so that you can write out every check deliberately. Give in ways you haven’t before: volunteer time instead of money, sell a piece of art, hold a garage sale, cut back on meat consumption, involve your friends.

As your hardness of heart towards “donating” fades away, you will want to learn more about the people you are connected to, and pledging for your niece’s cancer walk won’t piss you off so much. If you pray, you’ll want to pray more for strangers in need. Stories in the news will take on richer meaning. All because you are no longer just a check-writer – you have become instead a giving person.

My hope for you, and for all of us tired of giving, is that in time you will experience the indefatigable high that comes from trading whatever you have for a healthier soul.

(Photo by Sanja Gjenero)

2 Responses to “The Cure for Donor Fatigue: Start with the Soul”
  1. Darrell says:

    Thanks for the clarification about government “giving.” I often say that we should come home and mind our own business but by that I mean stop interfering in the affairs of other nations.

    The advice you give is good and I’m sure you know that it is Christian advice meaning that it is often lost on others. The whole concept of giving or of pouring yourself out for others is lost unless people see the necessity of it and I think that sight is spirtually discerned.

  2. joannacastlemiller says:

    And yet there are many Jewish and Muslim organizations pursuing justice on the front line, and plenty of generous non-religious people whose hearts break for the oppressed more than most of the “faithful.” Allowing one’s soul to be moved through generous giving may be spiritual, and it’s certainly an ideal that Jesus embodied, but Christians don’t have a monopoly on it if actions are any evidence. I have readers that are Christians and readers that are atheists. I hope that any advice I give can and will ring true to people of all faiths.

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