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NPO Management

How to re-engage your nonprofit’s lapsed donors: Tips and a sample letter to re-engage lapsed donors.

August 21, 2023

Re-engaging lapsed donors is an important part of a nonprofit’s donor relations. But, what is a lapsed donor? How do you re-engage with lapsed donors? How often should you reach out to lapsed donors? We get to all that and share a sample email (or letter) template to get you started.

So, what is a lapsed donor?

Most nonprofit organizations seem to define a lapsed donor as someone who hasn’t engaged with your nonprofit for at least 12 months. But, honestly, you can choose your own definition. 6 months. 2 years. 3 years. Or all of the above. (It is possible to send lapsed donor emails at the 6 month, 12 month, 2 year and even 3 year mark.)

A donor can lapse for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they just forget. Sometimes they may not be able to afford a donation. Or, they could have decided to support another nonprofit. Whatever the reason, we can all relate to the realities and complications of our everyday lives—the causes we choose to support included.

But, lapsed or inactive donors aren't just limited to donors who used to give and then stopped.

We need to rethink who we see as potential donors. That means not ignoring younger donors (“they don’t have any money”), volunteers (“they’re just volunteers — they don’t have any money”), and people who don’t “look like donors”.1
- Lisa Z G

Regardless of the reason why some donors lapse, a nonprofit should consider re-engaging them. Why? Well, they were once interested in donating their time, energy, and money to your cause. So, with the right messaging, they might just be convinced to give again.

1. How do you re-engage with your donors? You start by getting to know them.

Before we deal with how to re-engage donors, we need to understand why donors stop giving. There are a few possibilities here: (Lost and Found: Strategies to Recover Lapsed Donors.)

  1. They might feel under appreciated.
  2. Maybe they never received a thank you.
  3. Perhaps they were not asked to give again.
  4. Lack of communication about how your nonprofit uses the funds that it’s given.
  5. Donors might not be satisfied with the decisions and direction of your nonprofit.
  6. The influence of social media on giving behaviours. (Remember the Ice Bucket Challenge?)

Once you’ve separated your lapsed donors into one of these six categories, you can dig a little deeper by asking yourself:

How long have they been inactive for?

The question you should ask when getting to know your lapsed donors is: how long have they been inactive? Typically, donors are considered to be lapsed when they have not made a donation in 12 months or more. However, you will want to use different messaging when reaching out to donors who have been inactive for 6 months, 12 months, and a few years.

For donors who have been inactive for about a year, you may not need to do a lot of convincing to bring them back to support your cause. But, donors who have been inactive for several years may need to be reminded of the impact their donations made in the past.

Speaking of the impact of their past donations… The next question you should ask is:

What motivated them to donate to give to your nonprofit in the first place?

If you happen to know why your lapsed donor(s) started giving to your nonprofit you can see at which step in the donor journey they lapsed. Knowing which campaigns motivated them to donate before can help you strategize ways to re-engage them and personalize your communications to them.

2. How do you re-engage with your donors? Or, showing your lapsed donors a little love.

When re-connecting with a lapsed donor, the best place to start is from a place of gratitude. Start by letting them know the impacts of hteir past contributions, how much you would love to see them get re-involved, and filling them in on what your nonprofit has been up to.

Reaching out to your lapsed donors directly will show them how much their contributions are appreciated. And, as opposed to making them feel bad for not donating, they will be more likely to donate again.

How and when to reach out to your lapsed donors?

How and when you reach out depends on the answers to the above questions and what form of communication you think (or know based on past communications) your lapsed donors prefer. If your donors prefer to communicate via text, send them a text! Email? Send then an email. Phone? Snail mail? You get the idea.

As for the when, that depends on your nonprofit’s definition of a lapsed donor and how many time you want to reach out.

3. Make it easy for lapsed donors to re-engage with your nonprofit.

There’s more than one way to make it easy for a lapsed donor to re-engage with your nonprofit and you should try all of them!

A clear call to action:

Presenting your lapsed donor with an easy way to get involved in your cause again is one of the best ways to, well, get them involved. So, invite them to an upcoming event, provide them with volunteer opportunities and staff openings, or give them the opportunity to give a one-time donation. Or, if you don’t want to ask them for a donation of time or money just yet, you could ask them to subscribe to your nonprofit’s newsletter, follow you on social media, or fill out a survey to see how the donor experience can be improved.

Most importantly, however you choose to encourage them re-engage with your nonprofit, make sure your call to action is clear and easy to understand. A few tricks to keep in mind:

Diversify your giving options:

You might not know exactly why your donor stopped engaging with your nonprofit, but you can still be empathetic and acknowledge that there are many reasons for a donor to lapse by offering new ways lapsed donors can help.

This can be as simple as a few different donation amounts or a list of upcoming events they can volunteer at. What’s important is showing that your nonprofit values any contributions in any form.

Now, start writing! A sample letter to re-engage donors:

No matter how you decide to approach your text or email or letter to a lapsed donor, remember that it is worth the time and energy. Reconnecting with inactive donors requires fewer resources than signing up a new donor. (Blog article to come!) Plus, loyal, long-time donors are great at spreading the word about your organization.

To help, we’ve created a few templates!

More resources to help you re-engage lapsed donors:

Does connecting with current donors require fewer resources than signing up new ones? Yes. Yes it does.

What is a donor retention plan and why does every nonprofit need one?

Templates and writing tips to re-engage lapsed donors.

5 free ways for your nonprofit to improve donor relations.

A nonprofit’s guide to writing a thank you letter.

Keep learning (our sources):

1. Ignore Donor Retention Rates at Your Peril.