Lapsed Donors are a Fact of Fundraising. Here’s What You Can Do About Them

January 28, 2024
5 minutes

Pop quiz time! How many lapsed donors has your organization had in the last year?

Don't know that number offhand? Fundraiser, it's time to loop yourself in because donor lapse could be costing your organization a lot of potential fundraising dollars. Donors lapse for all kinds of reasons, but many of those reasons—like expired credit cards or unsubscribing from email—are preventable. Other reasons, such as their personal financial situation, may be a little less preventable, but you can keep doing your best to keep the magic alive in the relationship!

Donor retention strategies to identify and prevent significant donor attrition

Know your “at-risk” segment

If you want to reduce the number of current donors that lapse this year, your best first step is to identify your “at-risk” segment. For most organizations, a donor whose last gift was 6 to 12 months ago is a donor who is likely at-risk for lapsing. Set up a report in your CRM to keep track of these donors (Fundraising Intelligence, at your service!) Ideally, this report will auto-update so your data is fresh each time you look at it. Periodically look at their activity with your organization. For instance, were they sent an email? Did they open it? Have they responded to a recent appeal? Once you know which donors are in this segment, you can start to make plans for re-engaging them.

Test out re-engagement tactics

You've likely received an email or a direct mail letter that includes the copy, “We miss you!” It probably came from a nonprofit you gave to once upon a time but haven't given to in a while. The “we miss you” message has been done a lot—we know you're more creative than that when it comes to re-engaging at-risk donors.

Here are a few ideas for cultivating your at-risk segment:

  • Send them an impact story to highlight the power of giving
  • Send them a mission-driven gift that reminds them of the importance of your work
  • Celebrate their milestones: birthdays, donation anniversaries, new jobs
  • Ask them to participate in a donor survey

Like all things in fundraising, consistency will win you this long game! Cultivating your at-risk donors is not a one-off task for when you have an hour to spare. Make it a point of regularly giving yourself time to work on the cultivation of at-risk donors... even an hour every other week could make a difference.

Proactively deal with expired credit cards

If your nonprofit has a monthly gift program (which, P.S., you totally should!), you're likely dealing with lapsed recurring donors due to expired credit cards. Bummer!

But listen, you don't have to wait until after a credit card has expired to reach out to donors. Two or even three months out, run a donor management report to see if you have any recurring donors with credit cards about to expire. Set up an automated email to go out to those recurring donors reminding them to update their payment information. If there's an easy way for them to do this online, that's ideal!

Funraise has you covered so you never miss out on an annual gift due to expired credit cards.

Update your wealth screenings

You know who your major donor prospects are, right? In a perfect world, you'd use the power of wealth screening to always know who your major donor prospects are and also actively cultivate loyal donors. Ahhh, what a dream! Wealth screenings can be another strategy for reducing your lapsed donors. For instance, if a high-value donor has had a decrease in wealth, adjust your ask to reflect the difference in financial gift from previous gifts. Conversely, if you've had donors with an increase in wealth, adjust your donor appeal to encourage a larger gift.

Double-check your email subscribers

With more nonprofits using email as a primary method of communication and fundraising tool, there's a big blind spot you'll want to be aware of—donors who unsubscribed from your email list. This can be a huge contributor to lapsed donors... and it's totally solvable!

First, make sure you have other ways of keeping in touch with your valuable donors. Second, try to get donors back on your email automation list. You can go simple by sending them a personal letter asking if they'd like to be added to your email list, or you could do something as complicated as retargeting ads on Facebook.

Reach out via social media

Don't be shy! There's a reason why it's called "social". Use the features on your platform of choice to suggest that at-risk donors follow your nonprofit's account, like a recent post, or even go nuts and ask them to set up a peer-to-peer fundraiser for their birthday or in conjunction with an ongoing campaign.

If you use Funraise's Facebook integration, donor and fundraiser data will automatically sync with Funraise's platform.

Solving the lapsed donor problem at your nonprofit is kinda like plugging a bunch of leaks. Be curious about where you're losing donors and start finding ways to plug the leaks. With testing and consistent investigation, you can lessen the number of donors you lose each year.

Donor retention FAQ

Why Do Donors Lapse?

One of the most common reasons that nonprofits' donor retention rates are low is a drop in communication methods from the organization. Donors may not feel appreciated or valued if they don’t hear from their chosen nonprofit at least periodically. Other reasons why donors may lapse include changes in personal circumstances, a sense of donor fatigue, or even just forgetting about the organization over time.

How do I reactivate my lapsed donor?

Donor reactivation strategies are essential for maintaining and growing the donor base, and it can be accomplished with thoughtful planning and personalized communication. Offering varied ways they can support, like volunteer opportunities or peer-to-peer campaigns, as well as planning fundraising events and approaching donor communications through methods the donor has expressed (explicitly or implicitly) that they approve of is key. 

What are the different types of lapsed donors?

Lapsed donors are individuals or organizations who have made donations in the past, but no longer do so. There are several types of lapsed donors that organizations should be aware of when trying to re-engage them with their cause.

  1. Short-term Lapsed Donors: These are donors who give regularly for a period of time, then suddenly stop their donations without warning .
  2. Long-term Lapsed Donors: These are donors who give for several years, then suddenly stop their donations without warning.
  3. Inactive Donors: These are donors who have not made any donations in a long time, but still remain on the donor list and may respond to outreach efforts such as special appeals or events.
  4. Disengaged Donors: These are donors who have completely disengaged from an organization, and no longer respond to any form of outreach.

Check your donor database to identify these donor segments and prepare for re-engagement!

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