How you can start recovering lapsed donors.

Feb 17, 2022

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to worry about recovering lapsed donors.

You already know that it’s more efficient for nonprofits to focus on retaining the donors they already have, than it is to acquire new ones.

But the reality is, with so much on a fundraiser’s mind, donor retention can sometimes slip through the cracks. After all, the average donor retention rate for nonprofits is 43.6 percent according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

And even nonprofits with robust retention strategies are bound to have donors lapse over time!

So, you should have a plan for recovering lapsed donors in place. Here’s what you need to know.

Lapsed donors who fit your ideal donor profile are more likely to give again with a little push.

Who should we target?

The first step is to examine the differences between your lapsed donors, and donors who continue to give year after year. Are there any characteristics consistent among your current donor base that your lapsed donors don’t have?

Maybe some of those lapsed donors weren’t people you should have been focusing on in the first place. Consider focusing on recovering lapsed donors with similar traits, goals, and motives as your organization.

Lapsed donors who resemble your ideal donor profile are more likely to give again.

Have you run A/B tests during past fundraising campaigns? It’s very possible that one of your messages was more effective in inspiring donors to give. Consider reaching out to donors who did not give after receiving the less effective appeal with the winning version.

However, it will be much harder to draw conclusions based on this information if you have poor data hygiene!

It’s important to continue updating information for recently lapsed donors. Otherwise, you will have a much tougher time creating relevant materials or even getting in touch when you attempt to recapture them!

READ MORE: Finding supporters who fit your ideal donor profile.

Think of reaching out to a lapsed donor as getting back in touch with an old friend!

Don’t be afraid to get personal.

Your lapsed donors will be much more excited to hear from you if they receive something that feels unique and personal when you reach out again.

Remember, this is someone who gave to your organization in the past, someone you had a relationship with. Think of recovering lapsed donors like reaching out to an old friend.

Your message should show that you really know them! Consider sending a handwritten note to really give your communications that personal touch. You can also attach a sticky note to the appeal with a short “we miss you” message.

If you are trying to recapture a high-level donor, take the time to call them or even meet in person.

No matter how you make contact, reference specific programs they’ve supported in the past and share the impact of their past giving.

And do your friend a favor and include a prepaid reply envelope in direct mail appeals so it’s easier for them to give!

READ MORE: How to show donors the impact of every donation.

Lapsed donor appeals should be casual, concise, and remind the donor how their past support made an impact.

What does a lapsed donor want to hear?

Appeals to lapsed donors should be casual, concise, and remind the reader of the impact their support made in the past. Even if they haven’t given in a while, be sure to thank them for their past support.

Remind them they can still make a difference by renewing their gift.

The language you use can have a tremendous impact when recovering lapsed donors. For example, we found the call to action, “renew your gift,” is more effective in generating clicks than the standard “make a gift now.”

Why is this the case?

“Renew your gift” acknowledges that a donor has given in the past, which adds an extra personal touch.

READ MORE: How to thank and retain year-end donors.

Download eBook: Donor Retention - Are you deserving of long term support?

A three-part message.

You need to say three things when recovering lapsed donors.

1. “Thank you for your past support, we miss you!”

You don’t want lapsed donors to feel like they are receiving the same appeal as other donors on your list. Your communications need to feel relevant. The simplest way to do that is by thanking them for their gift of $X two or three years ago.

Let them know the impact that gift made and how much you miss having them as an active member of your community.

2. “Here’s all the great work that we’ve been up to.”

Now that you’ve reminded them of their last gift’s impact, you can now talk about everything you’ve accomplished since then.

The idea when recovering lapsed donors is to get them thinking, “Wow, this organization has been doing a lot of great work! I bet they could have accomplished even more if I had continued giving.”

3. “You can still make a difference, please consider renewing your gift.”

There are few things more powerful than a perfectly timed ask.

The goal is to have the lapsed donor reach the ask right as they were wondering how much more your organization could have accomplished had they continued giving.

FREE eBOOK: Donor retention – Are you deserving of long-term support?

An effective strategy for recovering lapsed donors will help your organization achieve your goals and make the world a better place!

Other ideas for recovering lapsed donors.

When recovering lapsed donors, the goal is to secure a donation. This is not the time to persuade them to upgrade their gift from three years ago!

The dollar amount of their contribution is not as important right now. Consider using an ask string that places their last gift on the higher end. Lowering the bar might be enough to push a hesitant donor over the edge.

You can also experiment with some out-of-the-box ways to generate excitement when recovering lapsed donors.

Can you incorporate a giveaway or competition into your lapsed donor appeal strategy? For example, if your nonprofit works to preserve nature, send lapsed donors who renew their gift a butterfly pendant, as a symbol of the donor/organization relationship’s new beginning!

Of course, the best strategy would be to have fewer lapsed donors to worry about in the first place.

But the world is not perfect. After all, you work at a nonprofit because you want to make the world a better place. And an effective strategy for recovering lapsed donors will help your organization achieve your goals and make a difference!

Like what you see? Stay in touch!