Mindy Sherfy

QUICK SHOT: 5 steps to win back your lapsed donors

These proven reactivation strategies will help you re-engage support

By Mindy Sherfy, Director of Client Support

Sometimes, we don’t realize how quickly time passes. That’s especially true for donors, and why I want to share 5 steps to win back your lapsed donors. But first, a story to illustrate how fast time flies:

Recently my family was reliving stories of our last ski trip – like my husband and I riding on the chair lift, chuckling as a skier barreled down the mountain, only to end up doing a 360 and wiping out. (Thankfully, said skier wasn’t hurt because it was our oldest son!) 

“We haven’t skied in a couple years. We should go!” I said. But I was quickly reminded it had been SEVEN years since we hit the slopes!

What? We love skiing. We love Colorado. We love spending time with friends. We love everything about a week at our favorite ski resort – so why haven’t we been on the mountain since 2015?

I imagine this response might be similar to what you would hear if you sat down with a lapsed donor:

“What? I haven’t given in seven years? I love Worthy Nonprofit. I love your vision and mission. I love how you have influence in our community. Are you sure it’s been that long?”

Every year, rescue missions spend thousands of dollars to acquire new donors so they can grow their revenue stream, only to lose about 60% of them in the first year. In fact, most nonprofits face high attrition when it comes to new donors. Couple these lost new donors with inactive and multi-year givers who do not give again, and the pool of lapsed donors gets bigger every year.

I encourage you to look at this as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. You have thousands of people who have supported your organization and championed your cause. Now it’s time to get them back.

Let’s start here, with 5 steps to win back your lapsed donors:

1) Understand why they stopped giving.

The first step to winning back your lapsed donors is understanding why they stopped giving in the first place.

  • Maybe they moved and became involved in other causes, or their financial situation changed. 
  • Perhaps their donor experience was lackluster, and they don’t feel appreciated or understand how their gift was used. 
  • Maybe their credit card expired.
  • Perhaps they got a new job and their email address changed. 
  • Or it could be, like me, that they got busy with life (and a pandemic) and simply didn’t send a gift.

Most donors won’t send you a text or draft an email to let you know why they stopped giving. You will need to do some detective work to find out why your donors lapsed and then craft a plan for winning them back based on what you’ve learned.

2) Send a letter or email with a strong call to action.

A crucial step to winning back your lapsed donors is reaching out to them in meaningful ways:

  • Thank your donor for their past giving and let them know how important they are to your organization.
  • Share the impact of their support by telling the story of a life they helped to change through your organization.
  • Use data to customize the appeal to the individual donor, such as the date of their first and/or last gift, giving frequency or giving amount. If the donor has supported a specific area of your ministry, include an update on that program or any new initiatives you are launching.
  • Remind the donor you haven’t heard from them in a while, and you miss them.
  • Invite the donor to renew their support. Be sure to utilize their giving history to drive the ask amounts.

Don’t expect a single letter or email is all you’ll need to get folks back on your bandwagon. Segmenting and evaluating lapsed donors by their giving history – and potential lifetime value – will help you determine how much you should invest in winning back your lapsed donors.

Reactivating lapsed donors should be a year-round effort. Consider including targeted groups of lapsed donors in your strongest direct mail appeals throughout the year. 

For example, BDI included $100+ 3-5 year lapsed donors and $500+ 6+ year lapsed in a year-end matching challenge campaign for a client. From this, the organization reactivated 26 major donors with an ROI of $9.11!

3) Switch the medium and connect with a lapsed donor in a new way.

Remember, donors come in all shapes and sizes. There isn’t a “one size fits all” strategy to win back the hearts and minds of these valuable donors, but here are some reactivation ideas to try:

  • If they’re not responding to direct mail, try email. Not responding to email, try a phone call. Try all three in succession.
  • Target lapsed donors through an authentic, organic social media campaign.
  • Try a handwritten letter or notecard

4) Make it easy to give.

No matter the channels you use to target these lapsed donors, it is important to make it easy for them to give:

  • Include a return envelope in your direct mail appeal. 
  • Print your phone number and web address for donors who might want to give through those channels. 
  • Be sure your reply device includes credit card options. 
  • Consider adding a QR code to your reply device in case donors want to scan with their phone to give online. 
  • Be sure to evaluate your online donation page to make sure it provides a hassle-free donor experience.

5) Give lapsed donors other ways to engage with your organization.

Some donors may not be able or ready to give financially again. But they may be interested in supporting you with their time and talents. Offer other opportunities for them to help you further your mission:

  • Invite them to volunteer, serving on the frontlines of your ministry.
  • Ask them to pray for your organization.
  • Invite them to become a peer-to-peer fundraiser, connecting their friends and social network in the work you do.
  • Ask them to be an advocate for your organization at their business, civic group or church.

Once you have captured a gift from a lapsed donor, pull out all the stops to welcome them back to your organization. Treat them with TLC to remind them how valuable they are to you and to those you serve! 

Check out last week’s Quick Shot – “3 principles that improve employee engagement”>>

  • Mindy Sherfy

    Mindy Sherfy, Vice President, Client Strategy

    Mindy Sherfy, Vice President of Client Strategy

    Mindy Sherfy brings to the table more than 30 years of experience in direct marketing and strategic nonprofit fundraising. She has had the opportunity to work with many Rescue Missions, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Eternal Word Television Network and The Salvation Army. Prior to joining BDI, she served as a Senior Account Director at The Lukens Company.

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