Don’t You Love Us Anymore?
What to do When Donors Lapse

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

All nonprofits have them in their databases: donors who have lapsed in their giving. Fundraisers should have a strategy within their annual fundraising plan to reactivate these past donors. After all, the cost to recapture a prior donor is less than the cost to win over a new prospect.

It’s worthwhile to consider why a donor stopped giving in the first place. It could be for reasons that have nothing to do with your organization (such as the donor no longer has the money to give). However, it could be for reasons that you control—and can easily improve upon with a little effort.

We have seen many nonprofits struggle with the following:

  • Thank-you letters to donors that are late or non-existent
  • Limited and/or ineffective communications that fail to describe impact
  • A prospecting plan to acquire donors, but no plan to consistently communicate with or appeal to them after they are invested in your work

Here are some ideas to keep the donors you have and win back those who have left the fold:

  • Do everything you can to minimize attrition, especially among your high-dollar donors. This means building authentic relationships, and demonstrating how their gifts have made a difference. In addition to the thank-you letter, consider sending a welcome package when a donor joins your organization. The key is to not only get donors connected and engaged with your mission as quickly as possible, but also to keep them engaged throughout the year.
  • Don’t let a donor lapse for long before reaching out. A number of organizations send short reminder letters in January to any donor who did not give in the prior year. Telephone calls can be even more effective.
  • Be persistent and personal. Remind the donor of his last gift date. Surveys have found that many donors didn’t realize so much time had passed since their last gift. Explain how their support will make a difference. Consider hand addressing the outer envelope to get more attention in the mail.
  • Don’t treat lapsed donors like current donors. That sounds harsh. But oftentimes we continue to send expensive newsletters and relationship-building materials to individuals who haven’t given in 24 months or more. According to Mal Warwick [], it is unlikely that these lapsed donors will reactivate from receiving a newsletter. Plus, you are wasting your limited resources on printing and postage. Include donors who haven’t given in over two years in your next prospect mailing.
  • Use multiple vehicles for outreach. Snail mail, yes, but don’t forget about the telephone and email. Without badgering donors, you want to communicate that their support is valuable and important.
  • Invest your dollars wisely by segmenting your lists. Focus particular attention on those donors who have given larger or multiple gifts within a more recent time period.

Implementing these changes will enable your organization to prevent donor attrition and deal effectively with lapsed donors.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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