Keeping Your Donors Through COVID-19

May 25, 2020
4 minutes

Pandemic or not, your nonprofit likely loses some donors every year—yep, donor attrition is inevitable.

Nonprofits lose donors for a variety of reasons: expired credit cards, off-base communication or stewardship, economic hardship, or donors changing their philanthropic priorities. And with the arrival of COVID-19, nonprofits may be even more likely to lose donors due to economic hardships, which is understandable, given that U.S. unemployment rates are staggering and the future of work for millions of people is already looking pretty different.

But losing donors doesn’t have to mean that you’ve lost the relationship forever—just because a donor stops giving doesn’t mean that your nonprofit shouldn't reach out to them ever again. Quite the opposite! Keep in touch and add value to donors’ lives so that when they're financially back on their feet, the relationship they have with your nonprofit still exists.

Here are a few tactics your nonprofit can use to keep the love alive.

Segment your donor communications

Segmentation is always a good idea—it allows you to recognize the type of relationship you've got with your donors. Use segmentation to convey specific messages or content to lapsed donors.

Need some ideas of what to send to your lapsed donors?  
  • Send your lapsed donors a copy of your annual report with a special personalized cover letter.
  • Use your organization’s expertise to add value to your donors’ lives. Send out a standalone email with a few relevant tips or create a shareable infographic.
  • Send a newsletter with content specific to lapsed donors. You don’t need to overhaul the entire thing to make this work! Consider changing one or two pieces of content to make it more relevant to the audience you're targeting.

Send a satisfaction survey

Donor surveys are a powerful tool for gaining insight into donor relationships. Even if a donor's lapsed, you can send them a satisfaction survey with the goal of understanding why they lapsed and how you can (hopefully) win them back.

Here are some survey questions you’ll want to include:
  • What part of our mission most appeals to you?
  • How would you rate your experience as a donor?
  • “I felt thanked and appreciated after my last gift.” Agree or disagree?
  • What was the biggest factor in your decision not to make a gift this year?

Include an optional field on your survey for donors to include their name; some will choose anonymity and that’s okay! When you review your survey results, look for trends to see if you can pinpoint what has impacted lapsed donor relationships. From there, begin to rethink parts of your fundraising strategy to improve your donor retention.

Pick up the phone

Even if we weren’t living in a COVID-19 world, picking up the phone to connect with donors is a good idea. COVID-19 has made it an especially good idea because we all need to be cared about and humanized. If your fundraising work hasn’t included a lot of one-on-one time with donors, fear not! Calling them “just because” doesn’t have to be awkward. In fact, before you make any phone calls, develop a loose script to help you feel more confident. Jot down a few talking points or a conversation starter, or go for full-on scripting until you get the hang of it.

Your talking points for your call could include:
  • A short anecdote from one of your programs
  • A quick update about a program
  • How your nonprofit has been handling the impact of COVID-19

Speak from the heart and be interested in your donors’ lives, too. Not every donor's gonna wanna chit chat, but you’ll find a few who do.

Ask… at some point

Yep, asking is a part of keeping your donor relationships alive! As you know, fundraiser, receiving an ask is the biggest driver for people’s giving. Asking prompts them to take action that otherwise might not have been on their rader. If you’ve kept in touch with your lapsed donors, at some point you’ll want to get an ask in front of them again. Ideally, this should happen sometime between 6 to 12 months after their last gift, but with an ongoing economic crisis, keeping an eye on what's happening is gonna be key.

Will you be able to win back every single lapsed donor? Probably not, but you'll regain some. For lapsed donors who don’t give, continue to keep in touch and make another ask down the road. You never know when circumstances will change and donors will reactivate their giving.

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