Resisting Compassion Fatigue


Given the recent string of catastrophic events that the country and world have endured, amplified by nonstop media coverage, you certainly can’t fault people for beginning to feel compassion fatigue. After making personal or workplace donations to charities providing aid in Texas, the Caribbean, Florida, and elsewhere, it’s understandable that donors might begin to feel worn out—or perhaps even begin to wonder how much of a difference they are actually making.

So it’s important to remember that every gift does matter—a lot—and that, even as the needs seem to multiply, every dollar contributed will be translated into tangible relief for somebody affected by disaster.

It’s also important to recognize that, after the initial rush of contributions following a disaster, many nonprofits providing relief today will still be in the business of long-term service to their constituencies. Disaster can strike in a moment. But recovery will be going on for years, long after the media has moved on to other stories.

So while it’s appropriate to acknowledge the reality of compassion fatigue, it’s also good to be reminded of four truths for times like these:

  1. Don’t despair of being able to make a difference—every contribution and every volunteer effort, however large or small, helps someone in need.
  2. Resist compassion fatigue. Continuing to be generous, even when we start to feel tapped out emotionally and financially, is the right instinct.
  3. Maintain commitments to the charities you support. Even if you’ve dug a little deeper to help out during recent disasters, maintaining your commitment will keep them moving forward.
  4. See the bigger picture. After the initial flurry of heartfelt donations, it’s important to support organizations that are in it for the long haul.

At Wiland, we feel privileged to have as our clients many of the nonprofit organizations that are bringing help and hope to millions of people impacted by recent hurricanes and other disasters. We look forward to seeing our colleagues in fundraising at the various conferences we attend and hearing their stories from the field of the good work they are doing.

It has become axiomatic that disasters bring out the best in people, whether that means getting out on a boat and rescuing stranded survivors or getting out the checkbook to enable charitable organizations to do their work. Someone once said that money is stored energy—the distillation of work performed by those who may not be able to serve in person, converted into a resource that fuels the work of those who can.

That’s a perspective that can combat compassion fatigue and inspire generous giving, long after the headlines have changed. Especially as we reflect today on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it’s imperative to recognize that recovery is a long-term process and ongoing support for victims is vital, whether a disaster is natural or man-made.

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