Four Strategies to Support Your Lapsed Donor Engagement Efforts
As we all know, 2020 created a lot of disruption to nonprofit fundraising. Internally, nonprofit strategies changed and pivoted, and donors reacted to those changes as well as the changes to their personal economic situation in varying ways. Because of that, many organizations saw a decrease in their donor retention rates as donors lapsed giving in 2020. Now that we are nearing the halfway point in 2021 and things are beginning to turn around, it’s vital that your organization have a plan for re-engaging those lost donors.
These four strategies will help your organization take steps to re-engage supporters who have fallen off:
- Reach out - Be sensitive but not shy. Yes, the COVID crisis and subsequent fallout negatively impacted many people in our community. Lives were lost, and many people encountered financial setbacks. It's critical that you are sensitive to the potential changes that your donors have experienced. However, just because someone experienced hardship and paused engaging with your organization, doesn't necessarily mean that they want to disconnect from your work for good.
We know it’s human nature to want to be helpful, especially in times of crisis. Helping others can make people feel a sense of control, or it may provide solace or even a sense of purpose. Others may give due to a family or religious tradition or even because they simply want to make their community a better place.
With that in mind, don’t pull back on providing donors the opportunity to engage in your work and support your mission. Just because they didn’t, or perhaps weren’t able to, support your cause in 2020 doesn’t mean you should write them off as gone forever. Stay in communication with them by continuing to share stories of your organization's efforts and reaffirm that when they are ready to return, you will be available to put their contributions to good use.
- Show impact and success despite 2020 – While lapsed donors are likely versed in your work and the impact you have on those you serve, it is essential to show them how you handled the challenges of 2020. Answering the following questions in your communication will help share the approach you took and develop the message you want to convey: How did your services change? What lessons did your team learn?
Be honest about past and current struggles but do your best to be optimistic about what the future holds. Answering the following questions and others you find relevant can help draw out the information you need to communicate how your organization is moving forward: How is 2021 shaping up, and what’s on the horizon? Is there an applicable client success story? Did your service numbers increase? What forced changes within your organization ended up working and will remain in place?
- Meet them on their terms – Everyone gives differently! It's imperative to remember that and to be mindful that their giving may change in 2021 from what their past giving looked like. Many organizations have a one-size-fits-all lapsed donor mailing at the beginning of each year, targeting those donors who didn’t give in the previous year. But is that really when your donor wants to give?
I encourage organizations to send monthly lapsed donor mailings to those donors whose last gift was given 13 months prior; that way, you are targeting them when they generally like to give. Some people give when they get their tax refunds back; some in the summer months because schedules have slowed and they are thinking of you; some are campaign-based, like giving in the fall for a back-to-school appeal. It’s important to target donors when they are most likely to give, and you already know when is most likely a good time to give based on when they gave before.
This sentiment also applies to giving levels. Base your requests on the amount that the donor generally gives, perhaps with a modest increase. It’s also a good idea to always encourage monthly giving. For those who did experience a financial setback in 2020, it may be easier for them to commit to $50 a month versus a $500 one-time gift.
- Be patient - We all know that keeping donors is a more straightforward strategy than finding new ones. They already love your mission and don’t need to be sold on the value you are creating. It’s a matter of keeping them engaged so that when the time is right for them, they renew their financial support. Re-engaging lapsed donors may take quite some time – well into 2022 – but it’s worth the wait. In the meantime, keep them as involved and connected as you can, so they can envision what their renewed support will fund and why it’s needed now more than ever.
Do you use the strategies above? If not, which one(s) will you plan on implementing?
Need help? Contact Detroit Philanthropy to discuss your donor re-engagement and donor retention strategy.
About Rachel M. Decker
Having spent nearly 20 years in the nonprofit sector as an effective and strategic fundraising and foundation executive, Detroit Philanthropy Founder and President, Rachel Decker is passionate about helping others, making meaningful connections, solving problems and, most importantly, creating impact in our community. With the founding of Detroit Philanthropy, she turned that passion into a commitment to champion philanthropy throughout metro Detroit as a philanthropic advisor, fundraising consultant and speaker.