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7 Letter-Writing Tips To Win Back Your Lapsed Donors

It’s normal for nonprofits to experience some donor lapse. But when you’re aware of who is lapsing and why, you can craft a plan to regain their support.

In most cases, reactivating lapsed donors is as simple as reaching out with personalized communications. With the right lapsed donor letter, you can rebuild these important relationships.

This guide will walk through everything you need to know about winning back your past supporters, including:

  • What is a lapsed donor?
  • How can nonprofits reactivate lapsed donors? 
  • 7 tips for writing an effective lapsed donor letter

Let’s start with the basics to understand what a lapsed donor is and why they lapse. 

What is a lapsed donor?

A lapsed donor is a supporter who hasn’t contributed to your organization in a year or more.

There are many reasons for a former supporter to stop giving. For example, their financial situation could have changed, which is out of your control. However, a nonprofit’s actions—or inactions—can also influence donor lapse.

Think about your past stewardship efforts. Did you recognize each gift? Did you show donors how their contributions were being used? Was there anything else you could have done to increase donor retention?

By identifying lapsed donors, your nonprofit can brainstorm ways to reactivate their support.

How can nonprofits reactivate lapsed donors?

Lapsed donors are valuable. Unlike potential new donors, they have supported you before. And they believe in your cause enough to have sent you a gift.

Consider winning back their support with a sincere appeal letter from your heart to theirs. A lapsed donor letter, or recovery letter, encourages past supporters to give again through compelling and personal language.

The following seven tips will help your nonprofit write a successful letter.

7 tips for writing an effective lapsed donor letter

1. Write to one person

The first step in a lapsed donor appeal is to identify the recipient. Use your nonprofit CRM to pull data about donors and decide which donors should receive a letter. For example, it’s probably not worth reaching out to a donor who gave a one-time donation of $10. Focus your efforts on high-value lapsed donors.

Then, get personal. Donors can tell when an organization sends out a mass appeal. Rather than opening your letter with an impersonal greeting, such as “Dear valued donor,” speak to them directly, reference their past engagement, and tailor your donation ask to their average giving amount.

An authentic letter can drive meaningful support to your cause.

2. Say “we miss you”

A lapsed donor letter should communicate that you miss the donor more than their donations. Your nonprofit has lost a supporter first, and a source of monetary support second. Write your letter in such a way that you show your concern for the person. Here are some examples to keep in mind as you draft your own letter:

  • “We haven’t heard from you since March 2020. We miss you!”
  • “We miss having you as part of our family.”
  • “We’re counting on your renewed support for this campaign.”
  • “We miss your moral support.”
  • “We’ve missed hearing from you over the last year.”

If you want to win back your lapsed donors, let them know that your nonprofit has noticed their absence and is still thinking of them.

3. Share a story of impact and need

When possible, center your lapsed donor letter around creating a sense of need. Start with an impact story that sparks emotion and shows how your nonprofit relies on donations to make a difference.

For instance, focus on a real person who benefits from your programs or services: “Your last gift helped us feed hungry children like Nala. She now has the carefree childhood that she deserves.”

Then, introduce a sense of urgency by saying, “Your past support is still very much needed. This year, we need to feed 100 more children. Will you rejoin our cause?”

Sharing these stories will allow you to connect with lapsed donors and provide proof that your nonprofit is worth their renewed support.

4. Customize your donation appeal

Some of your lapsed donors will have given once and then never again. Others will have given faithfully for months. Each donor demands a different letter. The more faithful your donor has been, the more that donor requires a personalized letter with a personalized ask amount.

For example, if you know from your database that a donor made an annual gift at Christmas, mention that in your letter. Or if another donor supported only a specific area of your work, mention that.

Here’s an example:

“The last time we heard from you, you had generously responded to the humanitarian crisis in Honduras. You sent us a gift that helped us meet the immediate needs of that emergency. Today, I am writing to you because I think you can help us overcome another crisis.”

When donors resonate with your letter, they will feel more inclined to recommit to your cause

5. Match your language to the length of donor lapse

Statistically speaking, the longer your nonprofit has to wait for a gift, the less likely you are to receive one. That means you should segment your donors based on the length of their lapse and send each group a slightly different appeal.

Consider the following examples when matching your language to the date of a donor’s last engagement:

  • 1 year lapsed: “Your financial support in 2021 made a difference. Your gift at the end of this year can help our nonprofit make an even bigger impact.”
  • 2 years lapsed: “Your financial support in recent years was a great help to us. Now I’d like you to renew your support by joining our fight against childhood cancer.”
  • 3 years lapsed: “We haven’t heard from you for quite some time. Because your past support has made a difference, I think you can help us with our new campaign.”

Be casual with newly lapsed donors and more vigorous with donors who haven’t given in two or more years.

6. Invite the donor back

Provide a clear path for lapsed donors to reconnect with your cause by giving them actionable next steps.

Just remember to tailor the opportunities to each donor’s interests and preferences. For example, if a past supporter only participated in online events, they might not be interested in your bike-a-thon. To increase your chances of re-engagement, consider:

  • Asking for donations to a particular campaign.
  • Offering a subscription to your free newsletter.
  • Inviting them to an upcoming event.
  • Promoting a volunteer opportunity.

Lapsed donors might need a few more interactions with your organization before they recommit. That’s why it’s important to diversify your engagement opportunities in the hopes that one of them will pique their interest.

7. Win back their hearts and minds

The last thing your lapsed donor letter needs to do is drive home the emotional impact of your organization and back it with logical reasoning. A final call-to-action does just that.

For example, conclude your letter with, “We’ve already saved the lives of 200 stray animals. Will you help us save just one more?” Not only does this help your audience understand that they have a critical role to fill, but it also motivates them to take action.

Reactivating lapsed donors may seem overwhelming. But remember, you won their support before. With the right letter, you can do it again.

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