Step by Step Guide For Regaining Your Lapsed Donors

Months after developing and running a successful fundraising campaign, the donors you worked so hard to acquire start to disappear. Not only is this disheartening, but your nonprofit is also missing out on thousands of dollars in potential donations. Regaining these lapsed donors is more cost-effective than acquiring new ones. We’ve created a step-by-step guide to help.

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Step by Step Guide For Regaining Your Lapsed Donors

You spent months brainstorming and developing a winning marketing and fundraising strategy.

Hours were spent in meetings coming up with creative ways to acquire new donors.

You designed compelling visuals and you A/B tested dozens of messages to charm your donor segments.

Your online donation page runs as smoothly as it can, and your socials are bursting with high-quality content.

And it worked! Donations started pouring in and all of your hard work finally paid off.

And then, months after…

The donors you worked so hard to acquire started to disappear – one by one.

These donors are called lapsed donors.

regain lapsed donors

What Exactly Are Lapsed Donors?

Lapsed donors are donors who used to give to your organization, but for one reason or another, have stopped giving.

The definition of a lapsed donor differs some among organizations, most tend to define it as a previous donor who hasn’t given to your organization in the last 12 months.

If you’re a fundraiser or nonprofit development professional, you’ve also probably heard the terms “donor retention” or “donor attrition”.

These two terms are some of the hottest points of discussion in the nonprofit sector.

So, What Are Donor Retention And Donor Attrition?

And why are they important?

Donor retention rate refers to the number (or percentage) of donors that return to give another gift in a specific time period.

Donor attrition rate is the percentage of donors that your organization loses or reduces (i.e. stops giving) from one time period to another.

According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project’s (FEP) 2018 report, every 100 new and recaptured donors were offset by 99 lost donors and nonprofits lost $96 from downgraded and lapsed gifts for every $100 gained from new upgraded, and recovered gifts.

Here are some more stats from that report: Year over year:
– Total donors are down 6.6%
– New donors are down 9.2%
– New retained donors are down 18%
– Repeat retained donors are down 2.1%
– Retention is down 6.4%

In other words, lapsed donors matter.

In a world in which fundraisers and nonprofit professionals work very hard to keep their organizations thriving and their beneficiaries served, donors who have already indicated that they have an interest in your organization and were willing to give to your cause – are invaluable.

Additionally, regaining lapsed donors is more cost-effective than acquiring new ones. It can take 18-24 months for nonprofits to recoup the amount of money they spend to attract a first-time donor, as most gifts are generally 2 to 3 times less than the marketing/recruiting cost.

Pro tip:

Some organizations also use the acronyms LYBUNT and SYBUNT.

LYBUNT and SYBUNT are acronyms for groups of donors that have given before but not within the current calendar/fiscal year:

LYBUNT (pronounced “lie-bunt”) means donors who have given Last Year But Unfortunately Not This. This refers specifically to donors who gave in the immediately preceding (last) calendar/fiscal year but not in the current calendar/fiscal year.
SYBUNT (pronounced “sigh-bunt”) means donors who have given Some Year But Unfortunately Not This. This refers specifically to donors who gave in any preceding (some) calendar/fiscal year but not in the current calendar/fiscal year.

Prevention is Better Than Cure

Before we deep dive into the step by step guide for regaining your lapsed donors, let’s recap some of the basics of donor retention – so that there are fewer donors to regain!

  • ALWAYS thank your donors after each donation – no matter the gift size.
  • Personalize your communication and use the donor’s first (or last) name. No “Dear Supporter”.
  • Share volunteering and other involvement opportunities with your donors.
  • Acknowledge the donor’s last gift amount and your history together, especially when asking for another gift.
  • Use powerful images and videos to inspire and inform your social media followers.
  • Send out donation receipts following each donation, and a cumulative one at the end of the year for tax purposes.
  • With their permission, highlight donors on your social media profiles and in your e-newsletters.
  • Organize non-fundraising events to add value to donors without asking anything from them.
  • Regularly send email updates to supporters with information detailing your organization’s latest accomplishments, upcoming events, and the progress of ongoing fundraising campaigns.
  • Send out annual reports.
  • Post pictures of your volunteers at work and share mission-focused content to keep donors inspired.

Properly thanking, recognizing, and stewarding your donors will go a long way to lowering your donor attrition numbers.

It’s always better to prevent a problem than to treat it.

And loyal, retained donors provide your nonprofit with a steady and reliable income.

lapsed donors

Step by Step Guide For Regaining Your Lapsed Donors

Step 1: Track Relevant Metrics

It can be hard to know which efforts result in higher retention levels, upward movement of donors, or regaining the lapsed donors.

Here are some metrics you can consider tracking:

  • First-time Donor Retention: The number of first-time donors giving a second gift.
  • Returning Donor Retention: The percentage of donors giving 2 or more gifts that give again.
  • Lifetime Value: The monetary amount you can expect from the average donor.

Pro tip: Without collecting data and tracking metrics, it’s both difficult to effectively steward donors and to draw conclusions about why they lapsed. Good data hygiene is of utmost importance. 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 gain them back.

Step 2: Keep Your House in Order

It’s possible that your donors just lost touch with you and would have otherwise continued their giving. Perhaps their credit card has expired or they changed their email address.

Scrub your database annually. Check if the phone numbers and email addresses that you have are correct. If you have the resources, hire a trusted provider to do the database scrub for you.

Automatically send donors a notice when their credit card is about to expire or has expired recently.

Maintaining a clean donor database is all about making stewardship as efficient as possible. Once you’re organized, a nonprofit CRM can help you get the most out of your donor database.

Step 3: Do Research

You can’t regain your lapsed donors if you don’t know why they’re no longer giving.

The fastest way to get in touch with your lapsed donors is to send out a survey, usually via email. Ask them straightforwardly why they’re no longer giving and what might convince them to give again. Don’t be afraid to ask “Did we do something wrong?”

Furthermore, from the data that you have on hand, try to understand what led to the donor to lapse. For example, you can look at how the donor was acquired in the first place and if and how the donor was thanked.

Look at how often they donated. Did they give once but never again or were they a monthly donor for years and then they stopped giving?

It’s important to do this step because each type of lapsing situation will require a different stewardship plan.

Since you can’t focus on regaining all lapsed donors, you’ll have to prioritize. For example, it’s probably not worth trying to regain donors who have made gifts under $10 (this is an arbitrary amount – this will depend on your nonprofit’s average gift size) or have given only once. You want to stay mindful of the ROI (return on investment) of resources you invest trying to win them back.

You could also establish criteria for your VIP lapsed donor segment – that you’ll spend the most resources on.  To determine your VIP donor segment, start by looking at these parameters:

  • Cumulative giving amounts;
  • Number of years of giving (3 to 5+ years);
  • Personal connections to your organization (former board members, volunteers, family of someone your organization helped, etc…).

Step 4: Send Out a ‘Thank You’ Communication

Express your gratitude for the donor’s past gift(s) sincerely and authentically.

Send out an email or direct mail (if possible, use the communication method that you know the donor prefers) in which you share what their previous support has helped your organization achieve.

Perhaps you could share photos or videos of beneficiaries or the program that their donation(s) helped fund.

This helps donors see the positive impact of their contributions, making them feel like their giving has a purpose – which in turn increases the chances that they’ll come back and keep donating.

Pro Tip: Send a thank you letter via email or direct mail to strengthen your relationship with the donor.

thanking volunteers

Step 5: Call – Yes Really

It might be time-consuming and deemed as old-fashioned by some, but calling is a great way to try and re-establish the relationship with your lapsed donors.

Telephone calls are also the best way to help you find out why your donors stopped giving.

It could be that they moved, they passed away, they don’t feel like it makes a difference, they’ve stopped hearing from you, they don’t feel valued…

Whatever it is, making that phone call can help shift that perception. However, if you only ever call about money, you’re not going to retain the donor long-term, even if you manage to gain them after they lapsed once.

A donor-centric communication strategy needs to become a priority for your organization if you’re to prevent donors from leaving.

Send out regular emails, call every now and then (if possible), share the annual report, invite them to events, and thank them for every gift.

Every now and then, go the extra mile. Invite them to the office, highlight them on your social media profiles, or organize an event.thank you call to donors

Step 6: Be Authentic and Personal

The very best way to show lapsed donors that your organization cares about them is by personalizing your communication and being as authentic as possible.

Donors stop giving for any number of reasons. Some forget. Others lose interest. Some get distracted or feel like their support would be better used elsewhere. Others decide they do not like what you share on social media or what one of your Board Members posted on LinkedIn.

Each donor is an individual, so as far as practicable and possible, personalize your outreach to them specifically.

Show your care. Whatever information you have about your lapsed donors, use it. If you know how much and when they gave before, reference that. Show them you cared enough to address them specifically.

Tell your lapsed donors that you miss them. Compliment their giving nature! Don’t be shy in letting them know just how much you value them and don’t want to lose their contributions.

Stay sincere and genuine though, and don’t overdo it.

social share - nonprofit blog

Step 7: Invite the Donor to Come Back

When communicating with lapsed donors, it’s important to share the impact of your organization’s work and recent activities so they can visualize what their renewed support will go toward.

Whatever the content of the communication (e.g. a letter, a phone call, or an email), it’s important to eventually ask the donor to give again in a straightforward manner.

Like with acquiring a donor for the first time, when actually making an ask can get uncomfortable, inviting the donor to come back can be a little intimidating too.

However, it’s important to actually ask the donor to come back. No beating around the bush.

Pro tip: Be careful that your communications to lapsed donors do not come across as reprimanding or as a guilt trip.

Step 8: Be Open to Alternative Ways of Contribution

If, for whatever reason, a donor can’t or doesn’t want to make a financial gift – even after you asked them again, don’t be closed to other options of engaging with your lapsed donors.

Perhaps a change in circumstances is preventing them from making another charitable gift, even if they’d love to support your organization. So, give your lapsed donors the opportunity to donate their time instead. Make sure they know you would value that contribution too.

You might also want to encourage your lapsed donors to become a peer-to-peer fundraiser, empowering them to set up campaign pages on behalf of your cause. Then, your lapsed donors will drive donations to your organization through these pages by sharing them with friends, family, and colleagues.

No supporter should be ignored simply because they can’t financially contribute at the moment in which you’re asking them. Not only can those circumstances change in the future, but it’s also a sign of bad donor stewardship and doesn’t help build a positive image of your nonprofit.

Step 9: Make Giving Easy and Convenient

There are many reasons why donors stop giving. While you can’t control someone suddenly no longer being able to afford to give, you can control how easy and convenient the donation process is on your end.

If donors can opt into a recurring giving program, they’re more likely to make regular gifts to your campaigns. A set-it-and-forget-it approach is one of the best ways to ensure high donor retention.

If you want to turn one time donors into recurring donors, here are some tips for you:

Offer multiple ways to give (online, phone, check, and more), and multiple payment gateways for your online donors.

Ensure all those ways function perfectly so that the donor is not discouraged or distracted at any point.

Bonus: Looking for more ways to make giving convenient for donors? Consider investing in online donation software to boost your strategy and skyrocket your donations. Check out Donorbox!

Step 10: Put Systems in Place

To make regaining donors a sustainable and integrated practice in your nonprofit, put systems in place that will make it so.

You might decide to put one system in place for lower-dollar donors, and one for major donors.

For example, for lower-dollar donors, you might run a yearly donor reactivation drip campaign that includes sending out a lapsed donor reactivation email and, for mid-level donors, following up that letter with a phone call or e-mail follow-up.

For major donors, you might try to set up an in-person meeting (or, if necessary, a one-on-one call).

Automate as much of the process as possible, and schedule quarterly meetings in your team’s calendar where you’ll look at and discuss regaining lapsed donors.

fundraising letter

Regain a Lapsed Donor [Free Letter Sample]

Note: This letter is designed to be sent out as an email to a lapsed donor who hasn’t given in a year, and it’s been created to lead the donor to give online. Modify the contents and the CTA to suit your nonprofit’s specific needs.

Dear Anna,

We miss having you as part of our nonprofit family!

The last time we heard from you, you had generously responded to the grave environmental crisis in Brazil.

We really appreciated when you contributed to our “Save the Rainforest” campaign one year ago. Your gift helped us protect a vast 1000 acres of rainforest, home to indigenous peoples of Macuxi, Wapichana, Ingarikó, Taurepang, and Patamona. We have been hard at work since, protecting an additional 1000 acres of the rainforest.

We’re writing to you today because Peru’s rainforests are being cleared for industrial monocultures to produce the ethanol and biodiesel that will end up in our fuel tanks.

For generations, the indigenous Shipibo people lived undisturbed in the Peruvian Amazon and used the rainforest sustainably for a modest livelihood. But now, their jungle paths are increasingly blocked by oil palm plantations.

They are suing to stop the destruction of their home. And we want to help them!

The gift you provided last year impacted more people in need than we expected. We think your gift this year can help our nonprofit make an even bigger difference.

Would you be willing to help the indigenous Shipibo people save their homes? Every penny helps secure funds to cover their legal costs.

Renew your gift today [URL – Button]

It’s your commitment and generous support that makes our work possible. We are forever grateful!


Matt from Nonprofit XYZ

Over to You

When nonprofit organizations are asked about donor retention rates for new, existing, and lapsed donors, one usually gets a blank look followed by a series of excuses around time, resources, and database problems.

However, winning back lapsed donors is critical to an organization’s growth. The long-term value of a recaptured donor beats that one of a new donor. In addition, the cost to recapture a lapsed donor is less than the cost to acquire a new donor.

Get to the why of your donor retention problem, and then figure out what strategic changes need to be made to address it and regain a part of your lapsed donors.

Don’t forget to always test. Before going all in, test your approach. Tweak the ideas that aren’t working well and then try them on a larger scale.

Finally, once you regain a donor, send a welcome back package and to thank them and recognize their recommitment. Now that you’ve regained them, it’s important to show to them they made a good decision by deciding to support you again!

To learn more about Donorbox’s online fundraising solution, sign up for free. Donorbox charges a small platform fee of 1.5% for the month’s donations. Our fees are the lowest in the market, and we charge no setup fee. Check out our Nonprofit Blog for more free resources.

Ilma Ibrisevic is a content creator and nonprofit writer. She’s passionate about meaningful work, sustainability, and social movements. If she’s not working, she’s obsessing over coffee or cooking. You can connect with her on Linkedin.

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