Bringing Back Lapsed Donors – A Quick Step By Step Guide

April 4, 2019 - 11 minutes read

Mary has been a major donor for a local education-based nonprofit for the past few years. She’s been a familiar face at their events and even volunteered a few times, teaching underprivileged youth during weekends. But over time the regular donations have stopped coming and Mary is nowhere to be seen.

Does this scenario hit a little too close to home?

Don’t panic! You can still salvage the situation and get back in your donors good books.

First off, know that you are not alone. For nonprofits, the average lapsed donor rate is over 50%.

Half the people you worked hard to acquire over the past year are not going to give to your organization again, and that’s a hard nut to crack.

But there are a few simple steps you can implement today that will help bring these donors back. Let’s get into it.

Put a number on your lapsed donor problem

Mary was just one of many donors to go missing over the past couple of years. And for a small, local nonprofit like theirs, it was becoming too big of a problem to ignore.

It’s time to crunch the numbers. Identify how many of your donors from last year didn’t contribute again this year. If you find that you’re coming up with a percentage that’s unusually higher than the average lapsed donor rate… well, you know you have a problem on your hands.

Find out what brackets those donors fit into

There was something about Mary, the fact that she was in her middle age, that was surprisingly common among a majority of their donors.

Where did most of your donations over the past few years come from? Are they from fresh young college grads who care deeply about your cause? Or are they from middle-aged office workers with disposable income? You have probably collected and organized this data from your donors through online surveys or other forms of data collection. If you haven’t you should start today.

By segmenting your donors into age brackets or other groups that make sense for your organization you can find out how best to talk to them and convince them to give again.

Communicate with past donors in a way they prefer

“Hey, we should reach out to these people, find out what’s wrong”, they thought. But how?

The ages of your donors are a major indicator of how you can reach out to them.

It’s a fact, generations respond differently to the various forms of communication out there. And to even stand a chance at bringing past donors back into the fold, you need to serve those preferences:

  • Millennials, always on the go, and nary without their phones in hand prefer you reach them through social media or text.

  • The earliest and most ardent adopters of new age technology, you can shoot a Gen Xer an email, and expect to get back some kind of response.

  • And of course, Baby Boomers, slow to adapt to the new, are more receptive to phone calls, face to face meetings and direct mail.

Target your donor communications.

“Honestly, we could do it right now, just pick up the phone and call them all”

After figuring out how to talk to them, all that’s left is to do it, right? If you are limited on resources, personnel and time, it’s not that easy. You need to make sure that the donors you contact are going to give you the most bang for your buck.

Some of the people you contact are going to hang up on you and others are going to ignore your messages.

But you learn and you change.

That’s where targeting your communications towards different groups can help you get the most out of your lapsed donor communication. Choose a group of donors that’s not way up on your priority list (49 – 69 age group who gave more than $1000) or way down (18 – 32 age group who gave less than $25).

Find a sweet spot in between, say the 49 – 69 age group who gave $25 – $100 and put your donor communications to work. The learnings from this first campaign should inform your strategy moving forward.

Don’t make these mistakes

So, they tried calling Mary through the phone. It had been over a year. When she picked up, she didn’t remember them right away and then subtly accused them of only thinking of her when they needed money. It was downhill from there.

Mary was a bust. But this doesn’t have to happen to you.

  • Don’t call out of the blue. Make sure you put your brand back on your donors map before hitting them up through the phone. Your donation box will thank you for it. A text or an email, just to remind them that you exist, does wonders.

  • Don’t forget to take steps to find out what went wrong for your donors and how you can make it up to them during your conversation. There may be an umpteen number of reasons they have not continued to donate, but none of them are going to be a lack of interest in your cause since they have already shown that they care by donating in the past.

  • Don’t take the risk of contacting your high-value donors on the first go. Polish your process and make sure it works as well as it can before moving on to bigger prospects.

Let’s take a look at an example of a process you can use to reach out to lapsed donors in the age bracket of 49 – 67 (Baby Boomers):

Your plan of action

First – Send an initial message.

Why: Put your nonprofit back on their radar. Let them know about an event you’re planning, through email or even direct mail. Show them that their participation doesn’t just have to be monetary.

Second – Make the call.

Why: Older donors would rather be reached through the phone or talked to in person.

Third – Express your appreciation by thanking them for donations that they have made in the past.

Why: Everyone loves to know that they made a difference. Tell your donors how much their  past contributions meant to your cause and let them know that you appreciate their support, even if they have not donated recently.

Fourth – Show them how your campaign has made progress in advancing your cause.

Why: Now is the time to let them see the impact their contributions have made in getting your organization to where it is. Talk about what you are planning to do moving forward and be as transparent as possible about the future of your campaign.

Fifth – Tell them they are missed.

Why: You need to get the point of the call across, that you wish they would stay involved with your cause.

Sixth – Let them know you are open to suggestions.

Why: There may be plenty of reasons that donors stop contributing to a nonprofit. This is your chance to find out by letting them tell you what they might not be happy about.

Finally – A call to action.

Why: Ask them to get reconnected with your non-profit, Let them know about a non-ask event they can come to or even about events that they can volunteer for in the near future.

However you decide to go about it, keep the message clear – You want them back.

Segmenting your lapsed donors and personalizing your communications is the way to go. Especially if you are a smaller nonprofit that needs to make calculated choices on allocating your resources. This approach will go far in making a successful attempt at bringing donors back to your nonprofit.

Do you have your own strategy for bringing back past donors? If so, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected].