Donor compassion fatigue

Carers at an Orphanage in Uganda

There is no doubt that in recent years giving to charities by individuals and families has reduced by a significant amount. Are there just too many needs? Is it due to reduced family income because of unemployment or wage freezes? Does the fear of redundancy make people more careful in their giving to charities?

Some people say that a reduction in giving to charities is caused by compassion fatigue, or more specifically donor compassion fatigue. But first we will look at caring in an emotional and non-financial context.

Emotional Needs

Carers in society, whether professional people, volunteers or people caring for relatives can experience compassion fatigue. A quotation from the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project website reads:

“Caring too much can hurt. When caregivers focus on others without practising self-care, destructive behaviors can surface. Apathy, isolation, bottled up emotions and substance abuse head a long list of symptoms associated with the secondary traumatic stress disorder now labelled: Compassion Fatigue”

Jesus put it another way:

“Love your neighbour as yourself“.

This is important! We are meant to look after our neighbours but not to forget our own  material or emotional needs. Caring for others or being compassionate can be counter-productive if we do not also care for ourselves.

Everything Jesus did on earth was motivated by compassion, but we never hear of him suffering from compassion fatigue. He knew how to “re-charge his batteries” by spending time with his Father, in solitude, or with his friends.  He was therefore the ultimate example to us of balanced compassion.

For many years I have worked in an international charity and am well aware of the enormous pressure of world needs. I have been bombarded with requests from all over the world for funds for very worthwhile projects – but we cannot possibly respond to more than a few of these needs. God has given me the ability to see the bigger picture but sometimes this is overwhelming. But I have been very aware of God’s care and compassion to me and I have been able to bear the burden without being overwhelmed.

Donor fatigue

In the same way that a carer can be overwhelmed by the emotional pressure of compassion, we can be overwhelmed by the financial needs of so many charities. On television we have “Stand up to Cancer“, “Children in Need“, “Comic Relief” and appeals for famines, earthquakes, floods etc.

If we have given to charities in the past, we can be bombarded with post and emails with yet more needs. (Sorry, but charities like mine, have no option but to make frequent appeals as the needs are so great and continuous). There are medical research charities, animal charities, charities dealing with children, disabled and elderly people, charities looking after ancient buildings, and poverty relief and development charities – the list is endless and we can easily be overwhelmed.

  • How do we balance our own needs and the needs of our family with the needs of people less fortunate than ourselves?
  • Are animals more important than people, or vice versa?
  • Is it more important to give to children’s charities or charities dealing with elderly people?
  • Do the recipients need to be deserving, or is the need alone sufficient motivation to give?
  • Do we have a favourite charity that we can relate to emotionally and in terms of vision?
  • What does the expression, “Charity begins at home” mean to us?

For many years, I have reacted to the saying , “Charity begins at home”. This is because, to me, the needs around the world are much more severe than the needs of my home country. But if the word “home” refers not to our home country, but to our household and family, then I accept some truth in the quotation.

The answer is not to stop giving, but to ensure that we care for ourselves, and our families and then, out of overflow, give generously to needs around us, and throughout the world. This is truly, “loving our neighbour as ourselves”.

Author: George Dowdell

I was the founder of Karuna Action (formerly Kingscare) and was the director for 24 years. I have now handed control over to younger people but continue as an advisor and trustee. My passion is to see extreme poverty eliminated and to see justice for the powerless.

4 thoughts on “Donor compassion fatigue”

  1. Great post George, I hadn’t thought about it like that before but it is true that we are also called to care for ourselves, as well as one another. This way, we will always be in a position where we can care for and love others freely and generously. Thanks again and keep up the good blogging! Jess x


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