Was it something we said? What to do with lapsed donors.

It's an all too familiar situation: you have a database full of supporters, but a HUGE chunk of them haven't given to your cause in years. So what happened? How did they drop off? And how do we get them back?

First of all, the best way to engage lapsed donors is to not let them lapse in the first place. Stewardship is key! If someone takes the time to make a gift to your organization, it is crucial that you send a prompt and warm thank you to that person. The industry standard is within 48 hours. But don't stop there. Have a board member call to thank them. Send a note from someone who your organization directly serves. Invite them to visit your office and see your work in action. When you show a donor that their gift matters, and that they made a difference, they're more likely to stay involved.

But what about those who have already fallen off? Often, we send them solicitation pieces that get ignored, but have you ever considered sending something more personal?

At one organization I worked for, I created a direct mail piece specifically for lapsed donors. The envelope teaser said "You may not remember June 4, 2009 – but it was an important day for us". The date was customized to each individual donor.

Inside, the letter began: "It was the last time you made a gift to us. And your absence has left a void." The letter went on to tell them about some of the things we've done since then, and ended with a sincere request for them to reengage with our work.

The response was positive. Always keep in mind that any lapsed donor mailing will run a lower return rate than a mailing to your current supporters, but a higher return than a donor acquisition mailing. If you're looking for new donors, consider reaching out to your old donors. Then work hard to keep them engaged, so they don't lapse again.

What are some ways you've engaged your lapsed donors? Tell us in the comments!

- by Nathan Measom

Nathan Measom is a Salt Lake City based fundraiser with 14 years of non-profit experience. He currently works in Development for Best Friends Animal Society, and serves on the board of USFR.

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