8 Tips to Win Back Your Lapsed Donors

    Have you ever heard the adage that it’s easier to keep your current customers than find new ones? The same principle can be applied to nonprofits and their donors; securing new contributors is challenging, but it’s less difficult to retain donors who are already engaged and contributing.

    However, nonprofits frequently struggle with donor retention. Recent data found that donor retention was down by around 4.2%, alongside an overall decrease in total donor numbers. In short, nonprofits aren’t making up for lost donors by bringing in new ones.

    It’s more important than ever to keep the donors you already have, as well as identifying your lapsed donors so you can attempt to win them back. The good news is that it’s possible to retain those donors with a few robust strategies in place.

    Here are our tips for winning back those lapsed donors:

    What are lapsed donors?

    The definition of a lapsed donor is a person or organization that previously contributed to your nonprofit, but hasn’t done so for a specific period of time. There is variation between different nonprofits over what that length of time is, but a general consensus across many tends to be twelve months.

    The time period for your organization may be different. For example, if your most common donation type is monthly sponsorships, a donor might be considered lapsed after a few missed monthly donations.

    Why do donors lapse?

    There are several possible reasons why a donor might lapse, some within your control, and some completely out of your control. From a nonprofit leadership perspective, it’s important to take steps to manage those things that you can control.

    Some typical reasons for donor lapse include:

    1. Their financial situation has changed. Perhaps they can no longer afford to provide support, at least not at the level they were before.
    2. Other personal circumstances have changed. For example, people move and find new local organizations to support. Former supporters of educational organizations might end their support when their own child or loved one has moved on.
    3. They’ve made a choice to shift focus to a different cause. Sometimes people have more of an affinity with a different organization.
    4. The donor didn’t feel appreciated. This is definitely within the realms of things your organization can influence!
    5. The donor couldn’t see their impact, or thought another organization had more need.
    6. Donors were offended by mistakes in communication. For example, using the wrong name, or even a lack of communication.
    7. Payment information is outdated.   By times, donors may not even realize they’ve lapsed due to a change in their payment information.

    8 Effective tips to win back your lapsed donors

    Here are 8 effective tips for winning back lapsed donors:

    #1. Keep track of relevant donor metrics

    In the spirit of “what gets measured, gets managed,” you’ve got to keep a finger on the pulse of donor health in your organization and spot early metrics that can identify lapsed donors. If you don’t realize you’re hemorrhaging donors until a period of time has gone by, it may be too late to win them back.

    Some key metrics to track include:

    • First-time donor retention – A measure of the percentage of donors who continue to give after their first donation.
    • Returning donor retention – A measure of the percentage of donors who continue to give after more than two donations.
    • Donor lifetime value – The amount a donor is expected to be worth over a lifetime. It’s usually calculated by multiplying the amount given over an annual period by the number of years you expect to retain them.
    • Lapsed monthly donations – How many donors have missed one or more monthly donations?

    When you keep track of your key metrics, you can also observe which of any campaigns have a bigger impact on retaining donors, or bringing back those who have lapsed.

    #2. Segment to find ideal lapsed donors to contact

    We’ll say this up front; not all lapsed donors are going to be an ideal target for you to try to win back. It’s important to be selective about who you contact and avoid trying to win everyone back because you still want to protect the reputation of your organization. You don’t want to “flog a dead horse,” so to speak, and attempting to bring back those who have no interest or ability to donate will be fruitless.

    Regaining lapsed donors takes some time, effort and investment. Given the need to use your marketing budget as impactfully as possible, you might need to focus on the most likely mid to high-value donors, rather than a large group of low-value donors.

    Segmentation can help you to be more effectively targeted with your campaigns. Fundraising intelligence software such as iWave can help you to narrow down your target groups effectively. 

    #3. Keep your donor database updated

    Sometimes donors lapse simply because they lost touch with your organization. They moved to a new address, their credit card expired, or they changed their phone number. Nonprofits should prioritize keeping their donor databases scrubbed and updated to ensure that all the details on file for each donor are correct. 

    Staying proactive about keeping details updated helps you to reach out before there’s a problem. For example, if a donor is making regular credit card donations, you can see when that card is due to expire and reach out early. 

    #4. Find out why donors stopped supporting you

    The data you have on hand can be useful for spotting trends to help you understand what leads a donor to lapse. For example, among the many data points iWave tracks, you can find when someone has sold property locally and bought somewhere else. You can also spot other key information such as:

    • How the donor was acquired.
    • How often the donor made a contribution.
    • How the donor was thanked.
    • Which campaigns were sent to the donor.

    These are all areas where you can glean potential reasons for a lapse in donating. Of course, you can always ask, too. Surveys of lapsed donors can provide you with insights into what they like about your organization and what you can do better. 

    #5. Reach out with a personalized thank you note

    The bottom line is that donors should always be thanked. If you’re trying to win back lapsed donors, it doesn’t hurt to thank them again, sincerely and authentically. Reach out using their preferred communication method and thank them for their past contributions. Add information to highlight the impact they made with their donation. Including photos or videos can be a great way to boost interest and engagement.

    #6. Be open to alternative ways of contributing

    It’s possible that some of your lapsed donors may not be able to contribute how they have previously, but are open to an alternative. When you communicate with lapsed donors, be open to those alternative methods and lay them out in a way that is easy for them to understand and take action.

    For example, what if a lapsed regular contributor could donate their time as a volunteer? Or, what if they could harness peer-to-peer fundraising to continue contributing?

    #7. Make the donation process easy and convenient

    Everyone has their own preferences for how they donate, including payment methods. Sometimes nonprofits limit their ability to reach donors by having only a narrow approach to how people can donate.

    For example, if you don’t already offer recurring payments, this is an easy, simple way for donors to continue making regular contributions without having to manually take steps every time. Or, you might offer different payment gateways (such as Paypal or Apple Pay), payments over the phone, or payments by check.

    People don’t want to figure out how to jump through hoops or why a technology solution isn’t working, so be sure to test your payment methods and make sure they’re set up to be user-friendly.

    #8. Have the right systems in place

    Every organization needs efficient systems to ensure your energy is focused where it needs to be. For example, why manually send out emails when you can set up an automated process?

    An email automation may be a good solution for reaching out to lower value donors that have lapsed. You could set up a drip campaign to automatically send out lapsed donor activation emails, including clear instructions for how they can set up contributions again.

    It’s equally important to have clear procedures in place so your team knows what to do about all levels of lapsed donors. For example, do you reach a point where you make a phone call to mid or high-level donors, or request an in-person meeting? Automated systems can be helpful, but they’re not always appropriate, so at least have a clearly-written procedure.

    How can you prevent donor lapse in future?

    The ideal situation is that you prevent donors from lapsing in the first place. The question is, how? One thing that can help you is all of this data you’ve collected and looked at in trying to win back donors. You should have learned some things about why donors have lapsed, particularly around any areas that you can influence. 

    Some examples include:

    • Always thank donors after every donation.
    • Keep donors up-to-date about the impacts of their donations.
    • Personalize your communications and carefully target them to the right people.
    • Share information and opportunities within your organization.
    • Be proactive about any changes in donor circumstances or details.

    In the end, you can get back some of your lapsed donors, but it’s much better to never lose them at all. 

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    What You Should Do Now

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