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6 Steps to Win Back Your Lapsed Donors

Last updated: June 5, 2023

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Have you ever heard that it’s easier to keep your current customers than find new ones?

The same principle can be applied to nonprofits and their donors; securing new contributors is challenging, but it’s less difficult to retain donors who are already engaged and contributing.

However, nonprofits frequently struggle with donor retention.

Recent data found that donor retention was down by around 2.5%, alongside an overall decrease in total donor numbers. In short, nonprofits aren’t making up for lost donors by bringing in new ones.

It’s more important than ever to keep the donors you already have, as well as identifying your lapsed donors so you can attempt to win them back. The good news is that it’s possible to retain those donors with a few robust strategies in place.

Here are our tips for winning back those lapsed donors:

What are lapsed donors?

A lapsed donor is a person or organization that previously contributed to your nonprofit, but hasn’t done so for a specific period of time. There is variation between different nonprofits over what that length of time is, but a general consensus across many tends to be twelve months.

The time period for your organization may be different. For example, if your most common donation type is monthly contributions, a donor might be considered lapsed after a few missed monthly donations.

Why do donors lapse?

There are several possible reasons why a donor might lapse, some within your control, and some completely out of your control. From a nonprofit leadership perspective, it’s important to take steps to manage those things that you can control.

Some typical reasons for donor lapse include:

  1. Their financial situation has changed. Perhaps they can no longer afford to provide support, at least not at the level they were before.
  2. Other personal circumstances have changed. For example, people move and find new local organizations to support. Former supporters of educational organizations might end their support when their own child or loved one has moved on.
  3. They’ve made a choice to shift focus to a different cause. Sometimes people have more of an affinity with a different organization.
  4. The donor didn’t feel appreciated. This is definitely within the realms of things your organization can influence!
  5. The donor couldn’t see their impact, or thought another organization had more need.
  6. Donors were offended by mistakes in communication. For example, using the wrong name, or even a lack of communication.
  7. Payment information is outdated.   By times, donors may not even realize they’ve lapsed due to a change in their payment information.

6 Effective steps to win back your lapsed donors

#1. Analyze the data

Look deeper into your donor metrics to identify key changes that might have caused the donors to relapse. 

  • Segment lapsed donors – Segment lapsed donors into groups based on criteria like how long ago they donated, donation size and frequency, demographics, etc.
    This allows you to tailor re-engagement efforts, as recent small donors may just need a reminder while major donors from 5+ years ago may need a deeper re-connection.
  • Send lapsed donor surveys – Surveys are a great way to directly ask lapsed donors about their experience with your organization, why they decided to stop donating, what kinds of communications they received, and what would prompt them to donate again. Look for common themes in the survey responses to understand systemic issues.
  • Review organizational changes – Analyze whether there were any significant changes in leadership, mission, programs, or messaging around the time an organizational donor lapsed. Major shake-ups can cause donors to disengage if their new direction does not align with your nonprofit’s goals. 
  • Compare engaged vs lapsed donors – Compare the types of outreach, stewardship and personal contact that currently engaged donors receive versus what lapsed donors were receiving before they stopped giving. Lack of personalized stewardship is often a factor.
  • Track donations around news/media – Poor press, public issues with your organization close to the lapsing date or even not having enough social visibility could indicate that negative perceptions influenced donors falling off. Media narratives impact engagement.
  • Audit fundraising copy/materials – Reviewing the actual fundraising communication and materials sent leading up to the lapsing date can reveal if inconsistent, conflicting or poor messaging was a turn-off. 
  • Check event participation – Look at whether lapsed donors attended fewer engagement events or different types of events before lapsing. Donor fatigue with the “same old” events can cause fall off.
  • Compare retention by acquisition source – Analyze if retention/lapsing correlates strongly with how the donor was acquired originally. Some channels may attract less loyal donors.

#2. Reach out personally

Personal communication has an effect on donors. Reaching out and appreciating what they have contributed to your cause can be a great way to re-engage lapsed donors. The goal is rebuilding belief in the mission by expressing gratitude, listening intently, and emphasizing shared values. It reminds lapsed donors why they cared originally.

  • Call lapsed donors: Have a team member or volunteer call to thank them for their past support, ask how they’re doing, and show genuine interest in their lives. This human touch can melt fatigue or disconnection. Prioritize calls for consistent and major gift donors.
  • Send handwritten notes: Sending something handwritten shows extra care. Notes signed by leadership, volunteers, or beneficiaries expressing appreciation and updates on impact can remind donors why they cared originally. Make it about their giving, not asking again.
  • Host one-on-one meetings: For substantial donors who may have lost trust or belief in the mission, offer an in-person meeting. Listen to their concerns transparently, explain impact, and find common ground. Rebuilding rapport this way takes time but prevents permanent loss.

#3. Re-engage with updates

The goal is showing through real examples that their previous gifts created meaningful change, progress continues to be made, and there are exciting things ahead they could be part of again if inspired to give another gift.

  • Share specific impact stories: Highlight individual stories of who their past donations helped. Put a name, face, and story to the impact to make it tangible. Use photos, videos, interviews to bring stories to life.
  • Showcase measurable outcomes: Share data and metrics that demonstrate progress made towards goals thanks to contributions from donors like them. Charts showing increased individuals helped after a program expansion resonates well with donors.
  • Spotlight new initiatives: If launching any compelling new programs, capital projects or services, bring those to their attention. Align to their original passions for giving. However, don’t make this just about donations. 

#4. Be open to alternative ways of contributing

It’s possible that some of your lapsed donors may not be able to contribute how they have previously, but are open to an alternative. When you communicate with lapsed donors, be open to those alternative methods and lay them out in a way that is easy for them to understand and take action.

For example, what if a lapsed regular contributor could donate their time as a volunteer? Or, what if they could harness peer-to-peer fundraising to continue contributing?

#5. Make the donation process easy and convenient

Everyone has their own preferences for how they donate, including payment methods. Sometimes nonprofits limit their ability to reach donors by having only a narrow approach to how people can donate.

For example, if you don’t already offer recurring payments, this is an easy, simple way for donors to continue making regular contributions without having to manually take steps every time. Or, you might offer different payment gateways (such as Paypal or Apple Pay), payments over the phone, or payments by check.

People don’t want to figure out how to jump through hoops or why a technology solution isn’t working, so be sure to test your payment methods and make sure they’re set up to be user-friendly.

#6. Have the right systems in place

Every organization needs efficient systems to ensure your energy is focused where it needs to be. For example, why manually send out emails when you can set up an automated process?

An email automation may be a good solution for reaching out to lower value donors that have lapsed. You could set up a drip campaign to automatically send out lapsed donor activation emails, including clear instructions for how they can set up contributions again.

It’s equally important to have clear procedures in place so your team knows what to do about all levels of lapsed donors. For example, do you reach a point where you make a phone call to mid or high-level donors, or request an in-person meeting? Automated systems can be helpful, but they’re not always appropriate, so at least have a clearly-written procedure.

How can you prevent donor lapse in future?

The ideal situation is that you prevent donors from lapsing in the first place. The question is, how? One thing that can help you is all of this data you’ve collected and looked at in trying to win back donors. You should have learned some things about why donors have lapsed, particularly around any areas that you can influence.

Some examples include:

  • Always thank donors after every donation.
  • Keep donors up-to-date about the impacts of their donations.
  • Personalize your communications and carefully target them to the right people.
  • Share information and opportunities within your organization.
  • Be proactive about any changes in donor circumstances or details.

In the end, you can get back some of your lapsed donors, but it’s much better to never lose them at all.


Written by Admin

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