How to Renew Lapsed Donors

Even though you do everything you can to keep your donors happy, you’re still going to have lapsed donors.

It’s crappy, because:

  • You are donor focused.
  • You thank and appreciate your donors.
  • You share success stories that touch their hearts.
  • You send out annual reports to let them know that you’re using their money wisely.
  • You stay in touch.

 
lapsed donorsEven so, every nonprofit will have donors who quit giving for some reason.

After a year without a donation, they are considered lapsed donors.

Maybe these people had a change of life circumstance; maybe they got involved in another cause; maybe they just got busy and don’t even realize that they haven’t donated to your organization in a while.

Life happens and things slip through the cracks.

Hopefully, you’re always looking for new donors to offset problems like these. So why not let lapsed donors go to the wayside and just focus on getting new donors?

For one, every new donor represents an investment in time, energy, and finances — which means a bigger drain on your resources that are already stretched too thin.

Two, renewing a lapsed donor is cheaper and more effective than bringing in a new donor. Why?

Because lapsed donors have already shown interest in your cause and in your organization in particular. In other words, you already have a relationship built! And chances are, getting them to start donating again will take less effort and won’t take as long as trying to get buy-in and commitment from a new donor.

The good news is you can attract many of your lapsed donors back into the fold, if you work at it. You just need a system in place to help you identify lapsed donors, assess the issues that may have caused them to fall away, and to renew the relationship with them — resulting in a donation. And guess what? We can help you with all of this!

Why Donors Lapse

Consider these 3 core reasons people stop giving:

  1. They move away. Most people like to give where they live, and if they move to another city or state, they may switch their donations to a nonprofit in their new home town. Makes sense, right?
  2. They pass away. When people die, obviously they stop giving. Unless you are in their will, you’re not getting further donations.
  3. They go away. People will stick around and give as long as they feel needed and believe their donation matters. When they start to feel bored or they think they’re just a number in your database, they’ll leave.

 
You have no control over the first two, but you CAN do something about #3. Focus on giving donors a great experience and you’ll be less likely to lose them in the first place.

lapsed donorsA great experience means making people feel good after they give. It’s about 2-way communication and building trust.

That means you should listen to and carefully consider any criticism, from complaints about services to issues with online donation renewals.

Invite their feedback by asking your donors what they think through surveys or online polls. Call them to personally thank them and ask for their thoughts and opinions on current issues in your nonprofit, like expanding programs, adding a branch in a new town, or other things that might impact your reputation.

Communication is important for two reasons. First, it’s the best strategy for going after the donors who have left. Second, it helps you retain more current donors in the future.

Identifying Lapsed Donors

Typically, nonprofits consider someone who hasn’t given in over one year to be lapsed.

Segment lapsed donors into 3 groups: pre-lapsed, lapsed, and deeply lapsed.

The longer it’s been since their last donation, the harder it is to renew them. Grouping them based on how long it’s been since their last gift gives you an idea of the number of people in each group you need to renew and what the odds are of renewing them.

  1. Pre-lapsed donors are those that haven’t given in the last 11 months and are about to lapse. Maybe they’ve gotten busy and forgot to give or maybe they haven’t felt inspired. This is the easiest group to renew but you need to catch them before they lapse because once they do, it’s harder to get them back. I used to send handwritten notes to people in month 11 to invite them to renew their support of our fight against hunger. I’d usually get at least 10% of those donors to renew.
  2. Lapsed donors haven’t given in the last year but gave sometime in the past 2 or 3 years. The sooner you can attempt to renew them, the better.
  3. Deeply lapsed donors gave at some point in the past, but not in the last 3 years. This is the hardest group to renew, and with some extra TLC, you may be able to get some of them back.

 
Your donor database is extremely helpful in pulling these lapsed donors and their giving histories — making it easy to segment them into the 3 groups. Once you’ve done this, you can customize your message to each group while being sure to acknowledge that they used to give.

Renewing Lapsed Donors

Once you understand why donors lapse and you’ve identified who your lapsed donors are, you need a plan to invite them to renew their commitment to your cause.

  • Make it easy to come back. If you ask a lapsed donor to start giving again, make it as easy as possible for them to do so. If you send them a letter, include a reply envelope. If you call to renew them, be ready to take their credit card info over the phone. If you email them a request, give them a link directly to the donation page, so they can give in as few clicks as possible. The easier it is for them to take the action you want them to take, the more likely they are to do so.

  • lapsed donorsRemind them why they care. Giving is an emotional act, so tap into the donor’s emotions in your renewal request. Tell them how people or animals are suffering and that your nonprofit is poised to change that, but you need the donor’s help to do it. The more emotional the request, the better. You don’t need to beg, but you do need to tap into the emotions they already feel about your cause.

  • Customize the request. If you know WHY the donor gave in the first place or what they used to support, (maybe they ALWAYS gave to particular program or a particular group of your program participants) customize your ask to that. That shows the donor you’re paying attention and invites them to re-engage in a way that matters to them.

  • Make a personal connection. Review your list of lapsed donors with your Board, staff, and volunteers. Does someone inside your organization know the lapsed donor? If so, are they willing to reach out to that person? A personal connection from someone who is involved with the nonprofit is often the best way to renew a lapsed donor. Think about it – if you drifted away from a nonprofit and a friend asked you to renew, you probably would just because it was your friend who asked. Be ready to provide your Asker with a script and some support so they feel comfortable asking.

  • Invite lapsed donors to contribute in other ways. Depending on their situation, donors may not be able to give financially, but they might be able to give their time or help in another way. This may be a great first step for some donors to re-engage with your organization.

  • Customize your plan for different kinds of donors. Certain kinds of donors will need more than a basic Ask to motivate them to give again. Major donors might need a letter and a phone call to convince them to renew. A face-to-face request would be even better, because that shows the donor how important they are plus it’s harder to say “no” in person. Monthly givers that stop giving also need a phone call to renew.

Lapsed Donor Renewal Template

Here’s a swipeable format you can use in either a letter or email to renew your lapsed donors.

lapsed donors1. Personalize your request. Whether you send it by snail mail or email depends on your donors and how they originally gave. Send the renewal using their preferred communication method. Use the donor’s name and any other information you have about them in the letter. For instance, if their last donation was to help add beds to a homeless shelter, make sure you mention that specific fundraising campaign to help the donor remember their last donation.

2. Start with gratitude for past contributions. Thank the donor for their past support. Tell them how much of a difference they made. Update them on the progress their previous donations have helped achieve. Say “Because of your past generosity, our organization has built three new kennels and fostered over 30% more dogs this year.” Let them know that you’ve been moving ahead and fulfilling your mission and that their donation helped make it happen!

3. Bring donors up to speed. Without going into too many details and statistics, let the donor know what programs and services you’ve added or any big events you’ve been part of. If your nonprofit was involved in disaster relief for a newsworthy flood, mention that. For example, if the last year the donor gave was 2018 and your organization shipped water to a town in 2019 to help hurricane victims, let them know.

4. Appeal to the heart. Don’t just tell them about programs – share an especially engaging story about one of the dogs who was rehomed. Include pictures or video. Help them reconnect to your cause so you can rekindle the warmth and emotional connection they once felt.

5. Invite to give. Ask gently but clearly for them to donate. Give them a specific reason to give and include a sense of urgency so they understand why they need to renew NOW. Include your Core Number so they understand what their money will do. Even though they have given before, they need this information. Remember, they’ve been busy while they were away and probably haven’t spent the whole time thinking about your organization! Whatever you do…DO NOT GUILT THE DONOR!  Your renewal letter should be positive, warm, and friendly.  Never, ever list the things you couldn’t do because they didn’t give.

The Bottom Line

The more your nonprofit grows, the more donors you’ll gain and the more donors you’ll lose.

But don’t give up on the relationships you’ve taken so much time and money to build. Donor relationships are like all relationships – they take thought and effort to maintain.

There are a lot of reasons why donors quit giving but by being proactive and giving donors a great experience, you can minimize the loss, keeping dozens (maybe hundreds!) of donors in your family of supporters.

Other resources

How to Write a Fundraising Letter that Wins Back Lapsed Donors https://www.networkforgood.com/nonprofitblog/how-write-fundraising-letter-wins-back-lapsed-donors/

Step by Step Guide for Regaining Your Lapsed Donors https://donorbox.org/nonprofit-blog/regaining-your-lapsed-donors/

We’re going into detail about giving donors a great experience inside Fundraising TV where you can learn specific “how to” lessons in short, 10-minute video trainings. It’s the best way for busy nonprofit fundraisers to boost their knowledge, skill, and confidence. Find out more and join at www.GetFullyFunded.com/tv

About the Author:

Sandy shows Founders and leaders of small nonprofits how to fully fund their big vision so they can spend their time changing lives instead of worrying about money. She has helped dozens of small nonprofits go from “nickel-and-dime fundraising” to mastering donor-based fundraising, inspiring their donors to give often and give big.   Learn how to raise the money you need to fund your new nonprofit without begging, doing without, or paying out of your own pocket.   Click here to download our free ebook Fund Your Dream.

4 Comments

  1. Jason January 22, 2020 at 4:09 am - Reply

    We’ve also found that personal phone calls go a long way in renewing the relationship.

    • Sandy Rees February 4, 2020 at 3:51 pm - Reply

      Absolutely! There’s nothing like a personal phone call to connect with people.

  2. Carol Moholt January 22, 2020 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    Lapsed donors would likely have gotten a combination of email and USPS mail and sometimes a lapsed donor also sends us a Unsubscribe notice to an email newsletter, Giving Tuesday, or end of year donation reminder.

    We can then no longer send them anything by email but in such a case, do we assume they don’t want to hear from us by USPS mail either? Would they be unkindly disposed to us by sending a letter via USPS mail?

    Comments?

    • Sandy Rees February 4, 2020 at 3:50 pm - Reply

      Carol, communicate with your lapsed donors using the method they made their donation if possible. If all you have is an email and it bounces, then you can try looking up their mailing address to send them postal mail.

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