A lapsed donor is not a lost donor! Having a strategy that connects with your inactive donors through thoughtful communication and detailed segments can be the key to winning back a cold donor.
Driven’s Director of Partnerships, Farrah Rooney, has worked with nonprofits for over 15 years as a consultant, strategist and events manager. She works closely with our clients to improve their fundraising experience with our donor management software Farrah to help them gain and retain donors. Farrah shares strategies your organization can use to win back lapsed donors.
Farrah’s Top 3 Takeaways
- The first step is to look at when a lapsed last donated and why. Did they donate last year but not this year? And when they did donate, was it to a specific campaign or a response to a crisis happening in your community? This information can give you an idea of what matters most to your donor and shed some light on how you can win them back.
- Take time to survey your donors. Target create segments based on giving patterns and behaviours and ask donors why or why not are they continuing to support your work? What other charities are they supporting? And is there anything you can do to help them feel more connected to your organization? This data is crucial to helping you understand how to retain donors.
- Look at your open rates and action rates before labelling a donor as lost. If you noticed they haven’t read an email in a year, reach out. Let them know you’ve noticed they are not engaging with your content and ask if they still want to receive content from you.
Our Favourite Quotes
(11:57) The more targeted the ask is, the better. And trying to make sure that your data is clean and accurate so you can go back and look at things like language, tactics, donation level asks, timing, frequency.
(20:43) Don't be afraid to communicate often. I see a lot of organizations say they don't want to bother their supporters, they don't want to email too much. People get spammed. But I think that a lot of people's capacity for email is much higher, I think, than charities or organizations think you could just point to corporations that send emails often and you know that they're not doing that unless it works.
Let's talk about winning back lapsed donors with Farrah Rooney.
Hi, and welcome to Driven's Fundraising Superheroes Podcast. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente and as an innovator in nonprofit software, Driven is here to help you unlock your true fundraising potential. We would love to help you unlock the true power of your data and save hours and data management. So give us a visit at trustdriven.com if you'd like to learn more.
Even the best nonprofits will have a few donors slip through the cracks. Donor relationships are all about give and take. So what do you do when you notice a donor is no longer responding to your communications as much as they used to? Well, you have to try and win them back. A lapsed donor is not a lost donor, and sometimes they just need a little love to maintain their interest in your organization. I am so happy to have Driven's director of Partnerships Farrah Rooney on the show with us. She has been in the industry for over 15 years, working as a consultant, a strategist and an events manager, and having worked closely with our clients to improve their fundraising experience with our donor management system. Farah knows what goes into the donation process and how to retain donors.
So thank you, Farrah, for joining us today.
Thank you for having me.
So in your opinion, what is a lapsed donor and what qualifies them? How long do they have to be inactive for?
Yeah, I mean, it's a good question. And ultimately it depends on the organization. It depends on their annual fundraising and marketing cycles and their segmentation plan. So that's a sort of a vague answer, but we can get a little bit more specific. I mean, generally lapsed donors, supporters falls into sort of buckets and they're defined as like LYBUNT or SYBUNT, things like that. Anyway, last year but not this year or some year, but not this year. And the some year but not this year segment can go back to three years. It can go back four years. It depends. Generally that's how segmentations work. They say, okay, last year but not this year they get a specific message, then some year but not this year and they get a specific message and then it can go back. If the organization has capacity and they have the data in house and ready to go, they can go two years but not last year, and they can get really detailed. But it ultimately depends. And testing is always important. But if you're just starting out that whole last year but not this year, some year but not this year is a good place to start as well.
If the organization your organization hasn't been doing any communication at all or hasn't been trying to win them back, really, you can go as far back as you sort of want to get started. It depends but you can kind of start there.
When you notice that you have a few donors that have been inactive. What do you do next? What do you recommend to nonprofit when they're trying to engage inactive donors?
Yeah. I mean, really, charities should always be looking at inactive and lapse on sort of rolling timeline. So definitely going back to the first question. The first thing is to put them in those buckets. So if you're noticing lapse, the first thing to sort of ask yourself is, okay, when did they donate last? Right? Was it two years ago? Then they go in the some year, but not this year, or if was it just last year? Then they go in the last year, but not this year. And then the next thing that I would sort of recommend is to sort of do a little bit of a deeper dive and a little bit of a deeper analysis about when they last donated, how much they donated, were they a sustaining or annual donor? Were they a one time donor and they were sort of lapsed? And then from there, you can kind of segment and target your message back to capture them. So, for example, if you look back and go, okay, last year or two years ago, we received a whole bunch of first time new donors off of a Giving Tuesday campaign or off of a holiday campaign.
You could look back and try and re-engage them and send them an email at that specific time or just before that specific time to say, hey, you supported us on Giving Tuesday last year. Giving Tuesday is coming up again this year. Here's all the way that your gift made a difference last year. And here's the way that you can make a difference again next year or holiday and whatnot. So that's definitely one way to do it. Sort of look at the timing and try and personalize your message to align with how they gave last year to get them going. Another thing to sort of think about, too, is look at the size of their gift, because if you're looking at somebody that has the potential to be a major donor or somebody that was a major donor in the past, then you might want to be a bit more high touch with them. Right? You might want to hand them over to a board member or a senior leader in your organization to reach out and actually have a conversation with them about their giving priorities, just to say "hi" and see how they're doing to check in on them.
And it could be a soft conversation around the work that your organization did over the next year and just see if there's opportunities for alignment, perhaps in what they're giving priorities are or what they are and what your organization sort of is doing. I mean, there's tons and tons of really great resources and experts out there around about major giving and how to sort of re-engage those or how to start those conversations. But definitely that is one tactic for your lapse supporters if their given potential is larger. The other thing that I've done in the past that's been really sort of interesting is trying a sort of omnibus survey. So sending a survey out and it can be sent out, I would definitely actually recommend if you're going to send a survey to segment it by current and lapsed donors. You could even do LYBUNT last year or some year and ask them, are you still giving? If you're not, why not? What made you stop? You could ask them what other charities they support. And you can really get some interesting data from there. Particularly there's ways that you can make the survey sort of anonymous, but you could still tie a code or some sort of Identifier to the email and be able to sort of import that information into their records.
So you can have sort of more information about that individual, or you can just aggregate the data and just determine sort of what's going on. So if you find that there's a lot of folks or lapse supporters that feel like they don't have capacity to give, you could be asking for smaller amounts to those individuals. Right? I wouldn't recommend doing that across the board. But if there is a segment that has indicated that they don't have capacity to give at the levels we've been asking, you can ask them to give less. Right. Every bit helps. You could be more transparent about how their gift helps. I've received feedback from doing these surveys in the past where we found out that one of the reasons they stopped giving was just because they didn't hear from the charity at all and they didn't know what was going on and how their gift was helping. So that would be a really great opportunity to start building out a more robust communication plan about their impact as well. If you're looking at another sort of segment or depending again, on the capacity of your organization, you could look at deepening engagement through it could be giving events, special events.
You can invite them to a donor event or something like that once the world starts opening back up. Or you could even do virtual events, too. Right. So you could do things like town halls, virtual town halls, if you are an organization like, for instance, animal welfare groups, I know that I've done this. They've had town halls with lawmakers or town halls with animal experts to provide some sort of content or almost like content marketing. Right. And get them to re-engage that way. And then there's some sort of ask for or at least you get them on their radar. You follow up with an ask four weeks later or something along those lines and just see how they're doing. So there's lots of different ways to sort of get that information and then get it into action to try and re-engage it. But there's some ideas right there.
So I'm curious to know, how often should organizations be dedicating time specifically to their lapsed donors? Is this something that should be ongoing or maybe there's a time of the year it might be best to re-engage people who haven't given in a while.
Yeah, I'm going to offer another sort of vague, but ultimately it depends. Right. Because you need to be sort of rolling it out and always having sort of your re-engagement for your lapsed supporters as part of your overall annual giving and funding time. Right. So that could be annually in January, if it makes sense. If you are an organization that gets tons of supporters around a certain date, like perhaps your environmental organization makes sense to try and re-engage it's all just strategy. There's lots of different tactics you can use. Ultimately, the more personalized you can make it, the better. So understanding and trying to gather and look at the data that you have on them again, did they come in? Did they come into an event? What type of appeal did they respond to? Did they respond to an urgent appeal? Are they the sort of supporters that respond to emergencies? And perhaps those folks could be followed up a year later talking about how you responded to that emergency, et cetera. There's all kinds of of sort things to be thinking about when looking at your full sort of program, but ultimately personalization.
The more targeted the ask is, the better. And trying to make sure that your data is clean and accurate so you can go back and look at things like language, tactics, donation level asks, timing, frequency. One story I love to tell. I used to work for a very large international social justice charity, and that work both domestically and internationally. And so I was just really curious for some of their monthly sustainers. This is another thing to consider. Also, is geographically like, your donors in one part of the country might care about something in a very different way than another part of the country. Anyway, side note, but I was sort of curious as to what appeals their sustainers. The majority of their sustainers were coming in through and how that compared to the appeals that they were sending out. And what I was finding was that a large majority of their donors were actually coming through around domestic appeals. So they were caring about things that the charity was doing domestically. Yes, the vast majority of their annual appeals and their communications was about their international work. So my suggestion was that if they should be testing domestic appeals versus international appeals and they could even break it down geographically.
So I was finding that domestically, there were sustainers that were very interested in certain parts of the country versus others. Right. So even getting down, you're finding that you're seeing lapsed folks and they're coming off a certain appeal, like a domestic appeal that you're putting out around international campaigns, try and re-engage those folks using domestic messaging or try and see what other supporters in that little geographic area sort of care about and then try and sort of re-engage them that way. So that's just another way that mother tactics and things you could be looking at when you're sort of thinking about segmentation and timing.
Segmentation is key when it comes to this stuff. And you mentioned you gave so many examples of how they came into the organization, what they responded most to, and just their overall engagement can tell you so much about how you can re-engage them in the future. Are there any telltale signs of data that might indicate that this is like a lost cause or that might indicate that the donor maybe is not interested?
One thing definitely to look at is open rate of emails. So if they haven't opened an email from you, sorry, you could even be generous depending on, again, your capacity in the last year, in the last two years, I mean, not even open an email, then I would say they've probably gone cold. And what I would even do again, if you have capacity before sort of inactivating them, is do a formal re-engagement email out to those folks and say, hey, we noticed you haven't opened an email from us in the last in a while. Are you still interested in hearing from us? We'd be starting to go by you engaging with us, we're able to do all of this amazing work. But if you don't want to hear from us, we don't want to be clogging up your email, et cetera. So you could try something like that. People have had a really great response from that as well, even just on a technology level, looking at spam filters, spam traps, making sure that you're using best practices in your email delivery and making sure the emails are actually getting to them. But yeah, I mean, ultimately, looking at the open rate, looking at the action, the action rate, have they taken any action off an email?
They haven't done any action in the last year or two years? Maybe you want to have open rates of three years and action rates of two years and then do a reactivation campaign and then go from there. There's lots of different sort of things that you can do. But definitely, I would say looking at your open rates, looking at your action rates and just seeing if they've even clicking through and interacting with you guys at all.
Yeah. Do you find that email in terms of like, reengaging donors is usually the best way to approach it, or are there other ways that nonprofit kind of reach out to those kind of cold members?
Yeah, there's lots of different ways. And I think it just depends, again, on capacity and depends on again, I keep sort of I sound like a bit of a broken record. Right. And depends on what their segment is. If they are a lapse monthly donor and it makes sense and you crunch the numbers, it makes sense financially. And you're working with a telemarketing group, for instance, then absolutely. A lot of organizations will provide a telemarketing group with their last donors and get a great script together and then invite the telemarketers to reach out and try and re-engage them. So that's a huge tactic. Tons of organizations employ that direct mail also huge for lapse. Right. Depending on your marketing mix and your campaign strategies, you could do any number, right. You could say have a telemarketer phone, a lapse donor and week one, and then four weeks later they get an email as a little teaser to a direct mail piece that you're going to drop. Then you drop a direct mail piece, then you do a follow up with an email. Right. Because there's tons of data around supporters donating online after they get a direct marketing piece in the mail, right?
Yes. So direct marketing, there's a science to it. There's all kinds of different tactics you can take. But again, depending on your budget and your goals, an email is just sort of one of them. Right. I mean, who knows if you have found there's a whole bunch of lapsed donors in one geographic area and you have a DRTV spot that is proven really well, you can look at running DRTV in certain regions or certain areas, too. Right. Or texting or throwing an event or there's all kinds of different things that you can be doing. Ultimately, it's the marketing mix that works for you. I mean, digital advertising can be super segmented. Right. So you could be looking at dropping in your lap donor data into a custom Facebook or LinkedIn audience and then look at serving those individual ads that have certain sort of lapsed language around it. So lots that you can do. Lots that you can do.
Oh, totally. We've talked a lot about strategies already segmentation, just checking in, not being afraid to communicate what's going on and sending those emails. But are there any other tips that you would give to organizations to keep their supporters engaged and interested and donating?
Yeah. I mean, I definitely think one thing is don't be afraid to communicate often. I see a lot of organizations say they don't want to bother their supporters, they don't want to email too much. People get spammed. But I think that a lot of people's capacity for email is much higher, I think, than charities or organizations think you could just point to corporations that send emails often and you know that they're not doing that unless it works.
So there's some companies I literally get emails from daily. So I'm not suggesting that you send emails daily. But you could try weekly. You could even try bi-weekly, two a month. Right. See what happens. And you can monitor unsubscribe rates. So if you're seeing significant unsubscribe jumps, you can go, okay, you can pull back on it. I would be surprised if you did, but if that happens, the other thing to just also not be afraid of is if you do get a couple of supporters complaining or emailing saying you're sending too many emails, don't sort of jump the gun and stop sending emails out. Don't worry if there are a couple of people that respond back negatively, but the thousands of people that are getting emails aren't. So yeah, I would say just try to email more often. Don't be afraid to reach out weekly. The other thing, personalize as much as you can. Make sure your data is clean, make sure names are going out properly as much as you can. If you don't have a first name on file, make sure that there's a fallback. So it's not just being like Hi blank space, just like things like that, right?
That sort of make it feel more personalized. Even like five friends or things like that. Make sure you're using the right dates and then yeah, I mean keep your supports updated on impact. Let them know how their donations are making a difference and how partnering with you and supporting you or really changed the world and change their communities. That's sort of three pieces there.
Well, thank you again Farrah, for joining us on the show. And for those listening, you can learn more about reengaging email@example.com there. You can sign up for our newsletter, get the latest tips and tricks for fundraising marketing and more delivered straight to your inbox and listen to past podcast episodes to really help you learn how to segment and engage your donors. Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time on the Fundraising Superheroes podcast.