Are they really and truly lapsed? Or have you been neglecting them…

September 15, 2016

One of my subscribers recently sent in the following question. It’s a good question and one that I get asked often, so I thought I’d respond here.

Like most non-profits, we do an annual fund each year and mail 3-4 letters. We are an 19-year-old institution and have about 1900 people in our donor database. My question is, at what point after a donor has stopped donating to your cause do you stop mailing them solicitation letters? 5 years? 7 years? 10 years? 15 years?

Looking forward to your reply,


Ben, the answer to your question, like many in our industry, is “it depends.” We’re always looking for blanket answers to questions when the answers lie within each organization: your systems, your culture, your donor base.

You’re also asking the wrong question, Ben. Instead, ask yourself:

  • How precious are your donors?
  • What are you doing now to keep your donors?
  • Do your donors feel welcomed, appreciated, and as though they’re making a genuine difference in your work?
  • How well do you know your donors’ motivations?
  • You say you’re mailing 3-4 “solicitation” letters a year. Is every donor, lapsed and current, receiving the same letter?
  • How are your donors hearing about the impact of their donation during the rest of the year?

One of my fundraising mantras comes directly from Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits: Begin With the End in Mind. Are you thanking your donors well – and promptly? Take a look at your thank you letters, because chances are, they could use improvement. Download a free thank you letter template here, see a terrific “before” and “after” example here to help get you on the right track.

Why do your donors give? Understanding is key. Are you making it a habit to phone new donors to thank them?

When you’re making your calls to new donors, if you can, draw them out:

“Hi (donor’s name). I’m _____________ (your name) from ____________ (org). I’m calling today to thank you for your recent donation. It means so much and we wanted to tell you personally how grateful we are.”

Pause for a moment.

“If you have just a few seconds, I’d love to know what prompted your gift?”

The key with donor calls lies in listening. It’s all about the listening, and the opportunity for gratitude. Thank them again, and be sure to keep the conversation short and never intrusive.

What’s your plan for new donors?

Are you thanking them promptly, and do you have a process in place for bringing that next gift in the door quickly? Do you have donors in your database who have been giving the same amount for five years? Make a plan to move them up!

How are you acknowledging your donors’ cumulative giving? Check out this great read from Gail Meltzer, CFRE, and make a plan. What about your lapsed donors? Are you sending them the same appeal letter that you send donors? Shame on you! Communicate to them how much you love them, miss them, and want them back! Here’s an exceptional example from the brilliant folk at Agents of Good.

This isn’t rocket science. At its simplest, solid fundraising is a rinse and repeat formula of asking, thanking, and showing impact. Throughout the year, we offer a roster of ecourses that gently guide you, step-by-step, exactly how, from Power of Thank You (donor stewardship), to Nonprofit Newsletters (where you’ll learn how to write and design a revenue-generating newsletter that’s cost-effective), to Nonprofit Direct Mail (where you’ll learn the secrets behind writing direct mail that gets results), to how to launch and grow your monthly giving program, to starting your major gift program, to how to plan out your year-end campaign. And that’s far from the only ground covered. This stuff is comprehensive, and if you take it in and really use it to your advantage, you’ll be going places. Serious places.

I guarantee it.

And remember: It’s ever too late to reactivate your lapsed donors if you’re sincere about it.

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