Lapsed Donors

According to the Association of Fundraising Professional’s 2016 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey of 9,922 nonprofits, only 46% of donors who contributed to a nonprofit in 2014 made a repeat gift in 2015.  In other words, more than half of each organization’s donors from the previous year disappeared!

Since a marketing rule of thumb is that it costs 5 to 7 times more to acquire a new donor than to  successfully resolicit an existing one, rekindling the interest of these donors should be a top priority of every nonprofit.  The question is how to effectively do so.

The first thing to realize is that these donors probably don’t see themselves as having “lapsed”; they most likely still consider themselves active supporters of your organization.  Celebrate their past giving and rekindle their passion for your cause by sharing stories of how their gifts made a big difference.  Creating a compelling, donor-focused newsletter or video that tells stories about how your organization helped specific individuals or communities can be highly effective in accomplishing this.

If your lapsed donors contributed to a specific campaign, make sure your reactivation piece includes stories about the impact your organization is making in areas you know they’re interested in.  For example, if someone donated to help hurricane victims in Haiti, tell stories about the home your organization built for a young family and about the well you dug which brought clean water to a town.  If you’re helping with the aftermath of a similar tragedy somewhere else today, you can then segue to describing your current needs.

It is important to realize that lapsed donors can be quite different.  Some will have given once and never again; others may have given faithfully for many years.  You will be most successful if you approach these groups differently in your reactivation efforts.

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island created a very interesting campaign for long-time donors who had recently let their membership lapse.  Rather than berate them for not continuing to contribute, Audubon thanked them for their many years of support with a handwritten, personalized note, described the impact their previous donations had had, and extended their membership for free for another year.  Amazingly, 50% responded to this non-appeal by paying for their annual membership and 25% actually donated more than the annual fee!

One group worthy of extra attention is lapsed donors who are still actively contributing to similar organizations.  Identify these high-potential lapsed donors by running a merge purge operation that compares your lapsed files to acquisition lists you’re renting.  Then reach out to each of these individuals in a carefully-considered, personalized way.

Developing an effective reactivation program can be time-consuming.  Done well, however, you’re sure to find that the returns make it very worthwhile.


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