Recover Your Lapsed Direct Mail Donors Before They Lapse

Alan Sharpe - The Expert Fundraiser

When is the best time to recover a lapsed donor? Before they lapse. Using a "pre-lapsed donor letter."

I heard of a non-profit organization that mails a special letter to all donors who are at risk of lapsing. This organization has found that pre-lapsed donor letters are effective at preventing some donors from lapsing. Here's how you can implement a similar system for your organization.

Watch your database for donors who are approaching your lapsed-donor threshold. For most organizations, an active donor becomes a lapsed donor when that donor does not mail a gift for over 12 months. So watch your database for donors who are approaching this zone.

Run a manual query, or write a script that queries your database automatically (weekly or monthly), looking for all donors who are about to lapse. Decide how soon you want to know. In other words, decide how much notice you want to receive before donors lapse. The longer a donor has lapsed, the less likely you are to recover them again.

Running this query regularly will alert you to those active donors who are about to lapse unless you take remedial action. Flag these donors for special attention. Getting a donation from a current donors is five to eight times more cost effective than getting a donation of the same size from a stranger. So retaining your donors is vital.

Once you have a system in place for recognizing donors before they lapse, create a letter or series of steps that you will take to keep the donor active.

The most effective method of preventing donors from lapsing is a personal phone call from you. Use the phone to contact your most valuable donors. For those donors for whom a phone call would be too expensive (for you), write them a letter instead.

Craft a compelling letter that persuades these at-risk donors to renew their support. Your letter should:

  1. Acknowledge the donor's past gifts and thank them for their support
  2. Explain that you have not heard from them for some time (give the number of months if you want)
  3. Describe in detail how much their continued support means to you and the people you serve
  4. Consider offering an incentive for them to renew their support (a book, DVD, discount, free admission, special member benefit or other attractive premium)

More tips like this are available in How to Recover Your Lapsed Direct Mail Donors, Handbook 22 in the popular Hands-On Fundraising Series from Andrew Spencer Publishing. Discover the financial rewards, savings and long-term benefits of wooing and winning your donors all over again using direct mail. Learn more.  
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