How to Reach Lapsed Donors

March 21, 2023 | Categories Donor Management, DonorPerfect Fundraising Software, Featured, Nonprofit Technology

How to Reach Lapsed Donors

Establishing a community of loyal donors can offer nonprofits security and stability, allowing for longer-term budgeting and strategic planning. What motivates some donors to stick around, and why do others stop supporting your mission after a gift or two? By connecting with lapsed donors – or donors who haven’t given in a while – you can learn more about what inspires your supporters and boost your donor retention at the same time. 

Another reason to connect with your lapsed donors: it’s likely they don’t realize they stopped giving and may give again if prompted. According to a recent study by Philanthropy Daily, 49% of lapsed donors who hadn’t made a gift in at least two years believe themselves to be current donors. 

Pull the right data

First, you’ll want to set your own criteria for what constitutes a “lapsed donor.” For some organizations, one full year without giving is enough to consider a donor as lapsed. For others, or for donors who like to give a larger gift every few years, donors may not be considered lapsed until at least five years have passed without a gift. 

DonorPerfect users: You can quickly pull a list of lapsed donors by applying a selection filter with the date of supporters’ last gift to the Donor Names, Addresses, and Phone Numbers report. Learn how!

There’s a sweet spot for contacting lapsed donors, and you’ll want to figure yours out before committing to an outreach plan. Do you see donors on your list who gave once fifteen years ago in memory of a loved one, and haven’t been engaged at all since? Before you go out of your way to call them, try connecting with them through a newsletter or other mass communication first. On the other hand, donors who haven’t given in a year or two, but otherwise open your emails or attend your events are perfect candidates for personalized outreach. 

Try separating your lapsed donors list into four categories to help prioritize your outreach: 

  • Recently lapsed (1-5 years without giving, for example) and still engaged
  • Recently lapsed and not engaged
  • Distantly lapsed (5+ years without giving, for example) and still engaged
  • Distantly lapsed and not engaged

Want to see a projection of your donors’ lifetime giving? Use the Donor Lifetime Value metric! Multiplying your average gift amount by your average donor lifespan will show you what can happen if you increase your donor retention rate or if your average gift size changes.

How is Lifetime Value calculated? average annual donor contribution X average donor life span = Donor Lifetime value

Create an outreach plan 

One of the best ways to learn why your lapsed donors stopped giving is simply to ask them. This handy survey can help you reconnect with lapsed donors and learn more about the circumstances surrounding their giving (or lack thereof). 

While you can’t control whether or not your supporters have room in their budgets for giving, you can control things like thanking donors for their gifts or the number of solicitations you send each year. Take heed of any patterns that emerge in your lapsed donor survey results to better engage with your unique audience. From here, you can segment your outreach plan based on how engaged your lapsed donors are and how long it’s been since their last gift. 

Is there a chance any of your lapsed donors have moved and aren’t receiving your appeals? Check out DP Address Updater, which automatically refreshes your donors’ contact and demographic information every night.

Higher priority donors: offer a personal connection

For some lapsed donors, your e-newsletters and appeal letters might be getting lost in cluttered inboxes. Reaching out to them directly with a phone call or handwritten note will capture their attention and stand out from the noise. 

Concentrate your efforts on the newly lapsed donors with the highest total giving, who are among the most likely to either renew their gift, or offer constructive feedback informed by more recent experiences. 

Try leading with an easy in: do you have program updates, exciting news, or an upcoming event to share? Kick off your phone call or note with an invitation to reconnect, and it’s likely your lapsed donors will remember how good it felt to support your mission the last time they gave.

Get creative with your personal connections by sending a heartfelt video message! With DP Video, you can send an impactful message that shows your gratitude and inspires lapsed donors to give again.

Lower priority donors: offer an easy path back

For donors who stopped giving five or more years ago or who have lower total giving volumes, you can try lower-stakes ways of connecting with them first to save time and resources. Are they subscribed to your email lists? Could you invite them to follow you on social media? 

Many donors prefer to give when their friends and family ask as part of a crowdfunding campaign. When you encourage your volunteers and other supporters to start their own fundraisers, you may find your lapsed donors come back on their own! 

Gently re-introducing distantly lapsed donors to your mission can inspire them to give again when they’re ready, without making them feel put on the spot. It also protects your time, ensuring that you’re dedicating resources to personalized outreach for donors who are most likely to respond positively. 

Show your lapsed donors the impact of philanthropy 

Ultimately, your supporters want to know they’re making a difference. If your donors don’t hear from you after giving, and feel like their gifts aren’t impacting the causes they care about, they’ll likely seek out other organizations to support. 

Connecting with lapsed donors is a great way to repurpose excellent content you’ve already created. Do you have a virtual version of your annual report or a video you created for a fundraising event? Create an email list of your lapsed donors and make sure they can see that they have an important role to play in your nonprofit. 

Try preventing donors from lapsing in the first place! With the Donor Retention Toolkit, you’ll learn how to calculate your nonprofit’s donor retention rate, what inspires your donors to come back and give again, and how to create a timeline for donor engagement. 

Your donor retention toolkit mockup

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Toolkit now!

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Meet the author: Emily Zacek

Emily Zacek joined the DonorPerfect team as a copywriter in January, 2022. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 2014 with degrees in flute performance and organizational studies, and her undergraduate thesis focused on labor activity trends in American arts nonprofits. She brings a...

Learn more about Emily Zacek
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