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How to Bring Lapsed Donors Back

Churches and nonprofits alike often struggle with the fact that donors do not always give on a regular basis. This is quite common and shouldn't be cause for alarm as giving in general usually ebbs and flows throughout the year. That said, if you have a donor who hasn't donated to your organization with the past year, two years, or three years, he or she becomes apart of a group known as lapsed donors.

Lapsed donors, as long as they've donated within the past three years (anyone who hasn't sent a gift in over three years is a former donor!), are still extremely valuable to your organization. Think about it, they've donated to you before which supports the fact that they obviously believed in your mission enough to have given to you. So, let's try to get them to give again!

Below are a few creative ways to try and bring those lapsed donors back.

1. Write a Donor-Centered Appeal Letter

While mass-emailing donors or typing more formal letters might appeal to some, most fundraising experts agree that handwritten appeal letters continue to be the most effective method when reaching out to donors of any kind - and they can be particularly effective with lapsed donors as well.

Handwritten, personalized letters provide an individual touch and they show donors that you took the time and effort to reach out to them again. This is especially true when you make the letter all about the donor. Some tricks to make the letter all about them are to use a personal tone, use the word "you" a lot, have plenty of white space in the letter, use short paragraphs, and ask for a specific donation amount. Somewhere in the letter be sure to add how they can easily donate. This is a great way to incorporate mobile giving with text to donate numbers

2. Reach Out to Your VIP Lapsed Donors

Realistically speaking, you simply won't be able to focus on every one of your lapsed donors, it just won't be practical. So, a great focus to have should be to spend most of your time and money re engaging those donors who have already demonstrated a strong love for your core mission. These are also those who've given substantially in the past. You'll need to work harder to get them back because these are donors you definitely do not want to lose.

Start by defining these VIP Donors by:

  • Their cumulative giving amounts
  • The number of years they've been giving (3 to 5+ years)
  • The personal connections they have with your organization (former board members, volunteers, family of someone your organization helped, etc...)
Now that you've honed in on who's who, try to think through new ways to reach out to them on a more personal level. Here are three great examples:
  • Invite them to a VIP-only breakfast event where you can update them on your work.
  • Have all of your board members participate in handwriting notes of thanks to each of these donors.
  • Email them personally with an update on a recent project/program and ask them for support.
Reaching out to your VIP lapsed donor base should become a routine annual activity. You'll want to record, track, and measure every activity you try to determine what works best.

3. Try Cold-Calling Them

Another thing you can try is telemarketing to your older lapsed donors. Despite the low 12% average success rate for cold calling from an in-house list, you're still better off giving it a try if #1 and #2 above have been unsuccessful. Just be sure to minimize the waste by running the names through some type of phone append service and only call if you find a valid phone number for them. Remember, renewing an old relationship with your donors is easier than making new ones. And, always keep the calls very personal and don't give up as you go through the list!

4. Survey Your Lapsed Donors by Phone

This last item could actually be done in tandem with the cold-call, but it would need to be done in a way that is still very personal. When conducting a phone-survey, ask your lapsed-donors what compelled or prompted them to support your mission originally. Take notes during the call, document as much as you can as they share with you their reasons. Then, ask what might compel them to continue their support. The key here is to listen. Your information gathering, you're not trying to get them to donate on the spot or sell them on your next fundraising event. You're just wanting to know why they stopped giving and what would make them give again in the future.

There you have it. Four creative ways to try and get those lapsed donors to come back. Remember, the more you learn about your lapsed donors in this process, the better prepared you'll be to prevent them from lapsing in the first place.

Aplos Accounting has a number of fundraising features to help nonprofits manage their donor database.

Posted on: 10/13/2016
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