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Nonprofit guides

How to re-engage your nonprofit’s lapsed donors + sample letter included

March 5, 2024

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.

3 tips to re-engaged with lapsed donors

Templates and writing tips to re-engage lapsed donors.

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.

3 tips to re-engaged with lapsed donors

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:

Have one main call to action that is short, clear and visible.

You can include other call to actions as hyper-links or short sentences—just make sure they are less prominent than your main one.

Repeat your main call to action a couple times using the same design and wording.

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. Plus, loyal, long-time donors are great at spreading the word about your organization.

To help, we’ve created a few templates!

Templates and writing tips to re-engage lapsed donors.

Once you’ve gotten to know your lapsed donors, it’s time to reach out via text, email, snail mail, phone call—whichever communication medium your lapsed donor prefers.

Lapsed donors are valuable. They have supported you before, they believe in your cause, and maybe, just maybe they still do. But, how do you get their attention and convince them your cause is worth re-engaging with? We’ve already gone over a few tips to help you re-engage lapsed donors, now it’s time to dive into the actual writing part.

Writing to lapsed donors requires a thoughtful approach. But, what does that mean? Well, here are some tips to help you say what you need to say: 

(Or, you can just skip right to our templates.)

‍1. Get to know your lapsed donors.

If possible, segment your lapsed donors into smaller groups based on their past giving history. This will allow you to tailor your message(s) to them by reminding them of why they started giving to your nonprofit in the first place, while addressing why they left.

‍2. Personalize as much as possible.

Address your lapsed donor by their name, reference their past donations, bring up an event they participated in—anything to make your message to them feel personal. Making your communications as personal as possible shows that you value (and remember) their past support and are not treating them as just another recipient of a mass communication.

‍3. Show your lapsed donor you remember them.

By being relevant you’ll show your lapsed donor that you remember them and that their past contributions (donations, volunteer work, etc.) had a meaningful impact. And, reminding them of the difference they've made might just remind them of why they started giving to your nonprofit in the first place.

‍4. Thank your lapsed donor.

Being thankful isn’t just about saying thank you—it’s also about using an appreciative and thankful tone. So, take a bit of extra time to make sure your communications are friendly, warm, and make your lapsed donor feel good. Yes, a simple thank you can go a long way, but an entire letter or email or text written in an appreciative tone is even better.

And, if you can, a small incentive goes a long way. So, offer them tickets to your next fundraiser, a leftover tee shirt from the event they volunteered at a few years ago, or a picture of them volunteering.

‍5. Put yourself in your donor’s shoes.

Circumstances change, people's priorities shift, life gets busy. Showing your lapsed donor that you know and understand this, without being judgmental, will let them know they mean more to you than just their monthly cheque.

‍6. Share a story or two with your lapsed donor.

If you can, share a story from an event your lapsed donor participated in or a story or a testimonial that highlights the positive impact of your nonprofit organization's work. Stories are emotionally engaging and can remind lapsed donors of the meaningful work your nonprofit organization does.

‍7. Include a clear call to action (CTA) for your lapsed donor to follow.

Whether it's making a donation, signing up for updates, or attending your next fundraising event, clearly stating what action you want your donor to take makes it easier for them to actually take action. So, make the CTA relevant to why you’re reaching out and the medium you’re using.

For example, if it’s the last email you’re sending them before you remove them from your mailing list, you can make the CTA a bit more urgent. If it’s a text message, remember to copy/paste a link for them to follow. If there is an event coming up or a campaign that could really use their help, be specific and let them know how they can help.

‍8. Don’t just acknowledge that circumstances can change, offer new ways donors can help.

It’s one thing to say you understand that situations can change—it’s another to actually show that your nonprofit understands by offering your lapsed donor a few different ways they can continue to contribute. This can be as simple as a few different donation amounts or a list of upcoming events they can volunteer at.

‍9. Wrap everything up with your nonprofit’s contact information.

Just because you remember how to get in touch with your lapsed donor, doesn’t mean they’re going to remember how to contact you or your nonprofit. So, provide a direct and easy way for donors to get in touch with you and encourage them to reach out if they have questions.

And, remember to respect their privacy and preferences by including an option to unsubscribe from future emails if they choose to do so.

‍10. Mix things up and follow up.

Don't hesitate to test different subject lines, content formats, images, and CTAs. Use A/B testing to see what resonates the most with your lapsed donors and track who answers what so you can continue to refine and improve your lapsed donor communications.

Just because they didn’t respond to the initial email, doesn’t mean they will never respond. Maybe your email got lost in their junk mail. Maybe they meant to respond later and just forgot. Who knows! So, consider sending a follow-up email with a slightly different angle or approach. Sometimes, people need a gentle nudge.

Overall, the goal is to reconnect with lapsed donors in a genuine and respectful manner. By following these tips and tailoring your approach to your nonprofit organization's unique circumstances, you’re more likely to get a positive response.

Here are a few sample emails and text messages to help you re-engage lapsed donors.

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