Are They Really Lapsed? Or Have You Been Neglecting Them?
One of my subscribers recently sent in the following question. It’s a good question that I get asked often, so I thought I’d respond here.
Like most nonprofits, we do an annual fund each year and mail three to four letters. We are a 19-year-old institution and have about 1,900 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? Five years? Seven years? Ten years? Fifteen years?
Looking forward to your reply,
Ben, the answer to your question, like many in our industry, is “it depends.” We always are looking for blanket answers to questions when the answers lie within each organization—your systems, your culture, your donor base.
You also are 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 three to four 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 of Highly Effective People"— 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, and 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 ____________ (organization). 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 brand 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, on acknowledging cumulative giving, 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 e-courses that gently guide you (and your board, staff and volunteers), step-by-step, exactly how. 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 never too late to reactivate your lapsed donors—if you’re sincere about it.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.