The donor attrition rate for most non-profit organizations are disheartening, with the average non-profit losing over half of its donors each year. Many of those lost donors are due to organizations not having a good stewardship system in place to keep donors giving year after year.
Another key system that non-profits need to have in place in order to keep donors giving is a system for reactivating lapsed donors. A donor reactivation system is a proactive approach for reaching out to donors who stopped giving to find out why they stopped and what can be done to bring them back into the fold.
Why Lapsed Donors are Important
Believe it or not, your lapsed donors are crucial to success of your non-profit. They represent “low hanging fruit” for your development program because they have already indicated an interest in your work. People and companies who donate to your organization have shown that they care about your mission and are willing to write a check to support your programs. Thus, they are excellent prospects for continued giving.
Why Do Donors Stop Giving?
While some people may stop giving to your organization because they have stopped believing in your work or because they are mad at you for some reason, the vast majority the donors who lapse do so for one of the following reasons:
Poor Stewardship: Some donors stop giving because you are not thanking them, recognizing them, and stewarding them properly, or because they feel unappreciated by your organization.
Change in Capacity: Other donors lapse because they no longer can afford to give at all, or because they can no longer continue to give at the same level.
Change in Priorities: Some donors stop giving because, while they continue to believe in your mission, their philanthropic priorities have changed and they are now focused on other organizations. This sometimes happens because donors feel like their donations aren’t having the same impact on your organization that they could have on other non-profits.
Not Being Asked: Sometimes donors stop giving because you have stopped asking, or because they missed a solicitation or two and think you haven’t asked.
As you can see, many of these reasons can be addressed by your organization in a way that will encourage the donor to begin giving again. While not all lapsed donors will begin giving again, a significant portion will if you build a reactivation system at your non-profit.
First Things First: Stewardship and Tracking
Before we talk about what a good reactivation system looks like, it is important to point out that when it comes to lapsed donors, the best defense is a good offense. Properly thanking, recognizing, and stewarding your donors will go a long way to lowering your donor attrition numbers.
Second, in order to reactivate your lapsed donors, you need to know who those donors are. This means that it is important for your non-profit to track donor retention and run regular reports to find out when donors (particularly major and mid-level donors) stop giving.
How to Reactivate Lapsed Donors
In order to reactivate donors who stop giving, you should approach them with a simple message:
–Thank you for your all of your past support for our organization.
-Look at of the amazing things we have done with your support… we wouldn’t be where we are today without you!
–We miss you and would love to keep you involved with our non-profit.
-Would you be willing to get reconnected?
That is the “science” of your reactivation message. There are two pieces of “art” to the campaign as well. The first is, for major (and possibly mid-level) donors, figuring out why they stopped giving so that you can address those issues. You can subtly and respectfully ask them during in-person meetings and phone calls by saying something like, “I haven’t heard from you in a while, and have been anxious to fill you in on our recent projects. Is everything ok?”
However you phrase the question, don’t make the donor feel guilty. It is better not to find out why they left then to make them feel guilty about being out of touch.
The second piece of art to your reactivation efforts is in figuring out the right ask to make. Your goal for the ask is to get the donor reconnected with your organization. Thus, for many lapsed donors (particularly major donors), the reactivation ask should not be for money. It can be to ask the donor to come for a tour, or to set up a meeting, or for some advice for the organization… each of these can be great ways to get your donors back in the fold without asking for money.
For lower dollar donors, the ask will be for money, because the reactivation message will be sent through a mass communication channel (like snail mail or e-mail), and you won’t be able to put a lot of staff time and resources into reconnecting with any one donor in that segment.
Putting a Lapsed Donor System in Place at Your Non-Profit
I advise each of our non-profit clients to put a lapsed donor system in place at their organization. Generally, these systems have two components: one for lower dollar donors, and one for higher dollar donors.
For lower dollar donors, we suggest running a yearly donor reactivation campaign that includes sending out a lapsed donor reactivation letter (using the reactivation message outlined above) and, for mid-level donors, following up that letter with a phone call or e-mail follow-up.
For higher dollar donors, we suggest running reports on a quarterly basis to see which major donors have not given in the past 12-18 months, and where this is unexpected (meaning that the donor normally gives at least once per year and has stopped doing so. For these donors, the organization should try to set up an in-person meeting (or, if necessary, a one-on-one call) where the reactivation message and ask outlined above can be used. Large donors who give on a more regular basis can be contacted even earlier than 12-18 months after their last gift, once the organization realizes they have lapsed.
Reactivating lapsed donors can provide a significant boost to your non-profit’s bottom line. Build a lapsed donor system for your non-profit and implement it as soon as possible to make sure you are not missing out on this source of revenue!
Photo Credit: Infrogmation of New Orleans