Lapsed donors are often thought of as a ball and chain, weighing down an otherwise perfectly good donor file. But actually, the truth is that lapsed donors are simply a missed opportunity.

The first place to start is to ask – why did they stop giving to you and your charity in the first place?

Segmenting: The facts, just the facts!

So what do we do about this? First, do a little digging and make sure you have a good grasp on the following segments within your database;

  • Current – gave a gift this calendar year (not your fiscal year)
  • Active – gave a gift in the last 24 months
  • Lapsed – gave last their gift 24 to 36 months ago
  • Long-lapsed – have not given in the last 36 to 60 months and beyond.

Many organizations also segment their database by gift amount but be careful on this one. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen donors who give over a certain amount be removed from direct mail, never to be seen or heard from again.

It can be difficult to figure out why a donor has stopped giving. However, the primary reasons for donors to not give is simply because they were not asked to give in a timely manner, or even that they were not asked to give to a program or cause that they cared about.

Let me explain.

Do a quality check

Were your lapsed donors receiving regular, relevant and compelling communication to begin with?

Plus, when was the last time they were actually thanked, shown the impact of their past giving or invited to a stewardship event? Has anyone from your organization ever called them?

Across the sector, for small to mid-sized charities the benchmark for donor retention is about 60% – so that means 40% of donors just don’t stick around. But in all honesty, I have seen numbers closer 30% retention rates – meaning almost 70% of donors don’t stay!

What about the phone?

When that happens, your donors may need a little more love. Pick up the phone. Even if it is just 5 phone calls a day. Personally calling donors is like the apple-a-day analogy – it will keep you connected as a fundraiser, plus your organization will remain healthy.

How do you make them love you again? Make it targeted and specific.

For those donors who have not given in more than 24 months, consider either a special appeal or if your database and data allows, investigate what inspired them to give in the first place. Was it finding homes for kittens, or curing cancer or sending a disadvantaged kid to camp? For someone who wants to move research forward on a particular disease, they may not be that interested in a capital campaign. The more information you have – the better! Once you have identified what matters to them, consider tagging their file with something like a constituent code that identifies their area of philanthropic interest.

As always, heartfelt personal stories will reactivate best. Because at the end of the day, people give to people.

If you want to learn how you, too, can leverage the power of reactivating lapsed donors, check out this nifty case study.

Share your stories with me! Have you had success with these strategies?

Drop me a line via email or twitter!

Happy reactivating!

This post was written by Jessie-Lee Wallace, former Philanthropic Counsel at Good Works and fundraiser extraordinaire.