The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

Rethink how you approach lapsed donors

Conventional wisdom says it’s more cost effective to retain donors than acquire new donors. Of course you should spend a fair amount of your time tending to your active donors, ensuring they’re seeing the impact of their donation and making them a part of your community. In this case, an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure. But what do you do if these supporters stop giving? Write them off and move on?

Not so fast, says donor retention expert, Lisa Sargent. She offers superb examples of what to test with your lapsed and long-lapsed files (especially multiple or long-time lapsed givers), instead of immediately purging or ignoring these former donors.

As you assess your own approach, consider these five things before addressing your lapsed donors:

Lapsed donors probably don’t consider themselves “lapsed.” Be careful how you reach out to these donors—many may consider themselves to still be active givers to your nonprofit. Just because they’re not giving at the frequency you prefer, that doesn’t mean they don’t feel they’re important contributors to your cause. Acknowledge their contributions and make sure to let them know the difference they’ve made. In most cases, your next outreach to this group could be considered an “impact report catch-up.”

Different segments have different needs. As you build relationships with donors, remember that you have affinity groups who have specific motivations for giving, and give in different ways. Create a cultivation plan with these variances in mind, and do the same for those who have skipped a donation. Preventing a lapse is the best solution, but early intervention can help bring a portion of these donors back from the brink. (Alan Sharpe has a top-notch framework for a ‘win back’ letter.

Engage them with something different. It’s likely these so-called lapsed donors are still interested in supporting your cause in some way. Offer something new to this group, such as surveys, advocacy tools, volunteer opportunities, or event invitations to assess if they’re still interested. These activities will help keep your cause top of mind and communicate the impact of your work, which will allow you to build a case for giving again.

Look in the mirror. Is your donor stewardship model all it could be? Perform an audit of your donor communications from the point of giving throughout the lifespan of that donor. Then, compare that to a timeline of your donor churn rate. These are the critical moments at which you need to prepare compelling, proactive outreach. If you already have communications just before these time periods, it’s time for an overhaul. (Need some help? Listen to our recent webinar with Donor Relations Guru, Lynne Wester.)

Have a conversation. If a long-time or high-dollar donor stops their support, it’s time to pick up the phone and find out more. Use this as an opportunity to reach out and understand if everything is ok—for both your donor and your organization. Is something going on in your donor’s world that interrupted their support, or have they been soured by a miscommunication? Perhaps they’ve outgrown their current relationship with you and are unsure of other opportunities to do more with your cause. Be prepared to embrace any and all feedback—it’s likely to be an eye-opening conversation that could change your understanding of your donors.

So when do you cut them loose? Some fundraising advisors say never, while other experts say to take a hint after one year. I say: it depends. Look at the reasons why donors may stop giving to your organization and your fundraising cycles. Understand those first, then put a process in place to remediate, reactivate, or retire these contacts.

How do you handle your “lapsed” donors? Chime in and share your experiences below!

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About This Blog

Amanda Khoury
Marketing Manager

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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