Re-Engaging Lapsed Donors
Lapsed donors, or supporters who last gave to your organization more than a year ago, are important to consider re-engaging year-round, but especially when planning for your upcoming GivingTuesday and/or end-of-year fundraising campaigns. Beyond raising money, lapsed donors are great individuals to reach out to because they have a history of supporting your nonprofit. With increasingly short time horizons for many of us since the pandemic started, renewing your connections with people who you last heard from a while ago can be a way to check in with and strengthen your community of supporters.
Identifying and Prioritizing Lapsed Donors
When identifying who to begin reaching out to, it can be most helpful to organize your list of lapsed donors by timing as a gauge for how interested they may be in responding to your outreach. Often, we see that donors whose gifts are still within their memory are the most likely to re-engage with you. There are a couple groups of donors that are good to identify: 1) Donors who gave to your organization last year but have not given this year (your LYBUNTs); and 2) Any donors who gave to your organization during the pandemic. It is especially important to reach out to those who gave in 2020 to ensure they see themselves as long-term supporters of your organization. We recommend that you don’t look for donors whose last gifts were more than five or six years ago — typically, nonprofits tend to see diminishing returns on outreach to donors whose last gift was three or more years ago, and especially to donors whose last gift was over five years ago.
An additional way to prioritize your lapsed donors is by reviewing their giving habits, which include donation amount(s) and frequency. Determine the minimum amount a donor had to had given annually for you to reach back out to them. Though you can engage your whole list of donors regardless of the level of their contribution(s), this is ultimately a question of your staff capacity. If you start with donors who gave at least $100 annually, for instance, you can narrow your list while also prioritizing the lapsed donors who are likelier to be more invested in your mission. As you do this, don’t forget to also account for frequency — recurring donors and donors who gave multiple times over multiple years showed a significant degree of commitment to your mission.
Finally, make sure you include and prioritize supporters who may have a personal connection to your organization, such as consistent volunteers, previous board members, and any other personal contacts.
Crafting Your Outreach
Lead with gratitude! Your messaging should start with a note of thanks for their past support. Broad research indicates that two out of three donors stop giving to an organization because they don’t feel appreciated. While you may not know the exact reason why your lapsed donors stopped giving, it is always a good practice to reach out and highlight the impact of their previous gifts first before sharing more about how their support has helped you do the great work you’re doing now.
Once you thank them, you can then focus on the impact of their giving and use this chance to share any updates you may have about how you’ve shifted your work since their last gift. Keep this section short and sweet! The best storytelling tends to tap into people’s emotions, so craft a narrative of the journey you’ve been on and emphasize two or three big developments for your organization. Be as transparent and authentic as you can about any major staff transitions, program or strategy shifts, and growth you’ve experienced. As part of your storytelling, you can also include a piece of content you’ve already created, such as a client story that demonstrates the impact of your work. Tease this content and give them the option to continue reading it on your website or elsewhere.
Lastly, end by inviting your lapsed donors to learn more about your programming or to connect with you. This ask should depend on how they first engaged with your organization, so if they were a volunteer, you could share more about an upcoming volunteer opportunity. Other ways to connect can include inviting them to an event, to follow you on social media, to subscribe to your newsletter, and/or to make a modest gift. You do not have to make all of these asks at the same time! You may need to reach out a couple of itmes to re-engage your lapsed donors, and you can also start with a small ask to get them involved first before committing to donating.
In each of your messages, don’t forget to personalize the language you use! For example, you can customize your message to mention their last year of giving, as well as share how they last engaged with you and why their support was valuable. To make it more of a conversation, you can also consider asking your lapsed donors for their feedback, thoughts, or ideas.
A Few More Tips
Be patient with your outreach! It may take a while for your lapsed donors to re-engage but, most importantly, you’ve taken a step in making a connection with them again. Try reaching out about three times and, if you still don’t get a response or see other signs of re-engagement, consider them a former donor — some individuals may have moved on, and that’s okay! This is all part of the donor lifecycle.
In addition to reviewing your donor stewardship strategy to ensure that you’re thanking your donors regularly, set your own goals for donors’ giving and engagement, and track these consistently. This data will be helpful when you plan your next fundraising campaign and want to incorporate lapsed donor re-engagement into your strategy.
Found this article helpful? The Catalogue for Philanthropy offers similar resources through our Learning Commons membership, which provides access to 80+ live webinars every year and a portal that houses over 200+ existing tools, recorded webinars, and more. If you’re not a nonprofit in the Catalogue network and you’re interested in learning more about a membership, please contact Chiara Banez, our Nonprofit Programs Manager.