LYBUNT, SYBUNT, What? Everything nonprofits need to know.

December 17, 2023
6 minutes

TL;DR: LYBUNT and SYBUNT reports are some of the most important donor segments your nonprofit needs to properly engage lapsed donors, increase your donor retention rate, organize your donor database, and keep your fundraising efforts on track. Oh yeah, and to expand your impact!

But let's backtrack for a moment: If you're involved in your nonprofit's fundraising, you may be weathering a tightening. Some call it a giving crisis. First, you're not alone—this is a real thing, and the rest of the sector is experiencing it as well. Second, there are some things we can do:

  • double down on donor stewardship
  • expand engagement and volunteer opportunities
  • re-attract inactive donors

Guess which bullet point we're talking about today? That's right, we're reactivating dormant donors, otherwise known as SYBUNT and LYBUNT donors. 

What are LYBUNT and SYBUNT reports?

LYBUNT (Last Year But Unfortunately Not This) and SYBUNT (Some Year But Unfortunately Not This) reports are analysis tools used by nonprofit organizations to measure donor engagement. These donor lists allow organizations to track their donor retention, donor engagement, and the efficacy of their fundraising strategies.

What's the difference between LYBUNT and SYBUNT?

LYBUNT and SYBUNT are two terms used to describe donors who have given in the past but not recently. A LYBUNT donor is someone who gave a donation last year but has not given this year. A SYBUNT donor is someone who gave at least once within the last few years (you set the time frame) but, similar to the LYBUNT, hasn't given this year.

Why are LYBUNTs and SYBUNTs important?

LYBUNT and SYBUNT reports are especially important to nonprofit development teams. They help nonprofits better understand their donor base, identify potential areas of growth, and provide 

The importance of these reports also stems from their flexibility and simplicity. While they can be delivered in a more standard report format for board members, funders, and major donors, they're also just a list of donors. Nothing intimidating, just a list of people who have already expressed interest in your mission through a donation.

Why do donors lapse?

Donor lapsing is when a donor stops giving or reduces their gift size and frequency. While this is a common challenge for nonprofits, there's no reason it can't be corrected. Understanding the reasons why donors lapse can help organizations create strategies to retain them.

Take Chive Charities, for example: they have an astounding 98% average donor retention rate. Erika Carley shares the secret to their success on the Nonstop Nonprofit podcast:

...having a sound retention strategy in place is super important. ...once we get those donors through the door, it's 1 to 1 communication; there is no better tactic than that. You need to do it strategically, but there's nothing more valuable than connecting with your donors intentionally and authentically, and having a high touch approach is worth the investment.

The most common reason for donor lapse is that donors are flighty. They lose interest in your organization’s mission and no longer feel connected to it. It might seem that once a donor lapses, it's the perfect time to put your re-engagement campaigns into play, but, as Chive Charities shoes, the more effective strategies have you communicating with donors from day one. 

Identifying LYBUNTs and SYBUNTs

This is a job for your donor management software! As noted, LYBUNT means Last Year But Unfortunately Not This and SYBUNT means Some Year But Unfortunately Not This.

It's as easy as that: two points to apply to any list of donors within your CRM for nonprofits.

These supporters 1. Have given previous donations, and 2. Last donation date was either before this year (SYBUNT) or for a specific period of time (LYBUNT). Apply these two points to your entire donor base to discover who your active donors and your lapsed donors are. 

Here are a few ways to parse it out a little differently using your nonprofit dashboard guide:

  • Use your fiscal year or a cultural year if that applies better to your mission.
  • Apply this list to already-segmented lists of active donors to discover deeper engagement strategies.
  • Apply this formula to supporters: peer-to-peer fundraisers, volunteers, respondents to donor surveys, and more to discover what 
  • Use donation history to differentiate donation levels. One caveat to this is that your major donors should be no surprise. 
  • Track your donor retention rate seasonally. The time of year of the gift date is an important part of the LYBUNT/SYBUNT strategy.

How to run a lapsed donor appeal

Congratulations! Running a lapsed donor campaign is a great way for nonprofits to reconnect with donors who have not given in a while. It can be an effective way to encourage further giving, but the priority of appealing to LYBUNT and SYBUNT is doing it thoughtfully and strategically. Here are some tips for running a successful lapsed donor appeal:

  1. Know your audience
  2. Personalize, personalize, personalize
  3. Be clear and direct
  4. Provide perks
  5. Follow up

1. Understand your audience

Before you begin your appeal, take the time to really understand who you are targeting. Who are they? What motivates them? What do they care about?

2. Personalize your approach

Make sure your appeal is personalized so that donors feel like it was written just for them. Use their name, thank them for past donations, and remind them of why they donated in the first place.

3. Be clear and direct

Make sure your appeal is clear and direct about what you’re asking for. Don’t be afraid to ask explicitly for a donation.

4. Provide an incentive

Offer donors something in return for their donation, such as a discount on products or services, VIP access to events, or exclusive content. This will help motivate them to donate again.

5. Thank your donors

After your appeal has been sent out, follow up with donors who have not responded. This could be a phone call or an email, but make sure to follow up and show your appreciation for their support.

As you can see, lapsed donor campaigns are some of the most fun fundraising appeals. Imagine knowing what type of fundraising event a supporter responds to and providing that type of additional donor perks. Then imagine having long-term lapsed donors click through and begin to give again.

6 tips to successful LYBUNT and SYBUNT engagement

If BUNT is the problem, donor engagement is the solution. Here are 6 tips to the most engaging-est of donor engagement strategies.

Segment your LYBUNTs and SYBUNTs properly

You might not get this right at first; it's ok! Try it again. Then try shifting the magnifying glass to a specific segment or time frame or type of engagement and see what you get. 

Build LYBUNT and SYBUNT personas

Who are these lapsed donors? What do they respond to? Where are they and why did they donate in the first place?

Get personal

We can't emphasize it enough. One-to-one communication is the key to strong donor relationships. One step back is groups of members or recurring donors. Another step back is targeted donor segments. Choose what you can do, and go for it. 

Go where they are

Those personas we just discussed? Pull a Carmen Sandiego and find them where they're at. Think in terms of physical location, in terms of activities and work sector, and also in terms of the digital multiverse. 

Make them an offer they can't refuse

We know you're doing the impression; so are we. Now that we've got that out of the way, what perks pique your donors' interest? Would they jump at the chance to name an animal? Maybe it's just something simple like being able to give via Venmo. 

Pull all the numbers

Tracking your success: It's always the bestest of best practices. You can't iterate if you don't know what worked!

Bonus trick: Take your donors from LYBUNT and SYBUNT to recurring donors

How do you ensure that first-time donors aren't one-time donors? Get them into a recurring donor program from the start. Erika Carley from Chive Charities says the same:

So we prioritize monthly giving ...and then we continued to put our efforts into inspiring more and more people to join this this movement with us to support these underserved, overlooked causes.
[With recurring giving] you have the opportunity to be more strategic with your planning. You could be more proactive than reactive and you can get really creative. ...When you retain your donors in this way, it gives you the ability to foster a true culture of impact.

And the most beautiful thing about having a subscription-based membership program is that it facilitates the cycle of engagement. More donors means more events means more donors means more impact.

LYBUNT and SYBUNT pitfalls to avoid

As great as these reports are, there are a few mistakes that nonprofits frequently make. You can avoid them with a few bobs and weaves.

Donor fatigue

There's a difference between a conversation and someone talking at you (says the editor...) Listening as much as you speak is difficult when you're typing on a blank screen, but it's possible when you provide those communication channels back.

Improper segmentation

Something we see happen is nonprofits don't strip out people like major donors, P2P fundraisers, or donors who gave memorial gifts. We also see nonprofits not taking households or expired credit cards into account.

Forgetting to offer other ways to support

As noted in the beginning of the article, we're facing a giving crisis, which means that people can't always give at the level that they have in the past. Personalizing communications means offering opportunities to give of time or talent, not just treasure.

Not keeping track of LYBUNT and SYBUNT donor journeys

Finally, treating the LYBUNT and SYBUNT segments as their own journey is critical. You wouldn't treat them the same way you'd interact with a major donor and they don't go through the same cycle. Set up that journey and stick to it!

Now that you have all the LYBUNT and SYBUNT knowledge at your fingertips, go out there and push that donor retention rate through the roof! 

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