How to Win Back Your Lapsed Donors: These 5 tips will help you reaffirm and re-engage their support

Donor Acquisition and Retention

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Mindy Sherfy, Director of Client Support, BDI. Mindy 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 Brewer Direct, she served as a Senior Account Director at The Lukens Company. 

As Director of Client Support, Mindy serves as a senior fundraising strategist and trusted advisor for her clients. In addition to working with clients, she works across teams within BDI to review processes and tools that are in place in order to develop and execute multi-channel fundraising plans – ensuring clients’ needs and fundraising goals are met or, ideally, exceeded. 

Time flies… or so the saying goes. We’ve all experienced that feeling of wondering how time passed so quickly without us realizing it. And that’s especially true for donors, who might not realize how long it’s been since they supported your nonprofit. That’s why I’m sharing 5 steps to help you win back your lapsed donors.  

But first, allow me to indulge in my own 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. Find out why donors stopped supporting you. 
  1. Reach out with personalized communication. 
  1. Send out multiple types of appeals. 
  1. Make giving as easy as possible. 
  1. Ask to engage in other ways. 

1) Do a little digging to figure out why donors stopped supporting you. 

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) Reach out with a personalized letter or email to grab their attention. 

A crucial step to winning back your lapsed donors is to contact 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. 

Call-out box – It’s not “one and done”… work to reactivate lapsed donors all year round! 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) If at first you don’t succeed, try something new. 

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) Remove obstacles and make it as easy to give as possible. 

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) Invite them to engage with you in multiple ways, so they can pick what’s best. 

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 to the work you do. 
  • Ask them to be an advocate for your organization at their business, civic group, or church. 

Remember, it’s easier – and less expensive! – to re-engage current doors than to try to acquire new ones. These tips should help you in your quest to reactivate those lapsed donors and  encourage them to recommit to your cause. And once you’ve welcomed them back with open arms, don’t forget to continuously, genuinely treat them with TLC and remind them how valuable they are to you and how much of an impact they are making!  

If you have questions about your nonprofit fundraising efforts, the BDI team would love to chat with you! Learn more about how we serve nonprofits by visiting our website: 

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About BDI

We value relationships and are proud to connect nonprofits to our partner network and hope this helps increase your nonprofit’s effectiveness and success. We proudly partner with BDI (Brewer Direct), a full-service, omni-channel, marketing and fundraising agency for nonprofits.

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