How to Boost Donor Retention: 5 Ways to Re-Engage Lapsed Donors

Kevin D. Hendricks
How to Boost Donor Retention: 5 Ways to Re-Engage Lapsed Donors

It’s always cheaper to keep a current donor than acquire a new donor. This is a simple truth the nonprofit sector shares with the business world. Repeat donors mean less time, money, and effort spent on fundraising and more donor dollars going to your cause.

Your fundraising strategy should always consider donor management and how you’ll generate recurring gifts. The lifetime value of a recurring donor can quickly eclipse any large single donation amount. Most major donors achieve that status through repeated donations. So your nonprofit organization needs a solid donor retention strategy.

One way to boost donor retention is by re-engaging lapsed donors. Donor attrition happens, but a good giving program will find ways to keep those donors around. We’ll explore five ways you can reach out to past donors and improve your average donor retention rate. We also have strategies and tips to boost your retention efforts.

Donor Relationship Lifecycle

First, let’s look at the donor experience:

  • First donation: It starts with donor acquisition when a first-time donor gives for the very first time. Yay! You likely invested in fundraising campaigns, marketing efforts, direct mail, email, text messages, social media, phone calls, fundraising events, and more to land that first donation. It took a lot of work. Now you need to protect that investment.
  • Donor data: Your donation form should be collecting donor information so you can follow up. Every nonprofit should have a healthy donor database. This customer relationship management (CRM) data should help you know your audience better, so you can use segmentation for a personalized touch.
  • Donor engagement: A huge number of donors is useless if you don’t follow up. Take advantage of that donor base by reaching out with updates, news, and additional donation opportunities. This is simply good donor stewardship. Effective nonprofit fundraising will even use automation to make the donor communication process seamless.
  • Peer fundraising: Your biggest fans are retained donors. They keep on giving because they love your cause and support what you’re doing. This is a great opportunity to encourage them to tell their friends and generate new donors through peer fundraising. Thus the donor relationship cycle starts over.
  • Donor reactivation: But sometimes donors lapse. Maybe their financial situation changed, maybe they lost interest in your cause, maybe something else happened in the last year. Whatever the reason, they are now former donors. But that past support is an opportunity for you to re-engage. You want to tap into whatever worked the last time and restart their giving.

Donor retention is vital to ensure more of your effort goes to your cause and less to fundraising.

Chart showing donor relationship lifecycle.

5 Ways to Re-Engage Lapsed Donors

Presumably you’ve been reaching out to donors and for whatever reason they’re just not giving again. Whatever worked in the first place is not working now. Maybe you send a lapsed donor letter, but we’re big fans (surprise, surprise) of SMS text messaging. The metrics of text messaging are just too compelling—it works!

So let’s explore effective ways to reach out and deliver that call to action that converts.

1. Say Thank You

Reaching out to previous donors to say thank you creates an excellent opportunity to re-engage them. Plus, gratitude is nice. 

An easy way to do it is with our Thank You Time Machine, which uses a giving anniversary as an excuse to reach out and thank donors. Let them know how their donation made a difference and share what your nonprofit is currently doing. We go into more detail on gratitude in our free webinar.

Text message template: Thanks so much for your past support. You helped us amplify the voices of homeless people and reach more than 10 million people. Learn more about what we’re doing next: [LINK]

Man holding cell phone with 'thank you' text message.

2. Share Your Latest Success

Donors love to hear success stories, especially when they helped make it happen, so share how your nonprofit is making a difference. Share those impact stories that highlight your work. Give real and tangible examples. Share testimonials from people you serve.

Text message template: We’re saving the environment one bird at a time. Last week we released a rehabilitated bald eagle into the wild. Watch the video as this majestic beauty soars again: [VIDEO or LINK]

Cheering a text message sharing latest success.

3. Share What’s New

A tried and true way to reconnect is to share what’s new. Send them an update on your newest project or an upcoming event.

  • Talk about your new initiative, why it’s necessary, and the impact you hope it will have.
  • Invite them to an upcoming event or fundraiser (especially if they’ve attended the event in the past).
  • Share your latest goals and how you hope to accomplish them.

They key is to be specific. Offer real, practical info, not another generic nonprofit update.

Text message template: We haven’t heard from you in a while and miss you! We’d love to see you at our upcoming fun run. Get more details and sign up here: [LINK]

Woman holding a cell phone with text message sharing something new.

4. Invite Them to Volunteer

A lapsed donor is an opportunity to try something else. They could be ready to support your cause in a new way. So invite them to volunteer. Share opportunities and let them know how they can support your cause as a volunteer.

Text message template: “You donated to our camp in the past (thanks!), but are you ready to take the next step? We’re looking for volunteers to help with spring cleaning. Spend a week in the north woods and help us prepare for summer!”

Volunteer sign up.

5. Ask Donors Questions

Instead of trying to be subtle, just be direct and honest. Connect with lapsed donors and ask why they stopped giving. You could share a donor survey to get input or reach out directly to pick their brain. Especially with high-dollar donors, a personal approach can be a great way to get helpful info and figure out what to do next time (and you may learn it had nothing to do with you).

Text message template: “We appreciate your past support, but it looks like you haven’t donated in a while. No guilt, but we’d love to know why. Take our 5-minute survey: [LINK]”

Mobile phone showing a 5-minute survey.

Lapsed Donor Tips

As you re-engage donors, we’ve got a few tips to make your fundraising efforts more successful:

  • Personalize it: Put that donor database to work and use their name.
  • Picture: Include a photo. The Pablove Foundation found that photos work and they try to use one in every text. Pick something eye catching that showcases your work/impact. Videos work too!
  • Be consistent: Don't just reach out once and quit, follow up several times. Create a cadence of continued outreach until they donate again (and then they should go into another marketing bucket for continued donor engagement). At some point they'll either opt out or you need to give up.
  • Last warning: And when you're ready to give up, let them know: "You haven't responded, so we're going to stop bothering you. Here’s one more plea to check out the new food shelf and support our work: [LINK]"
  • Ringless voicemail: While we love text messages, a ringless voicemail can offer greater impact. Get your executive director to invite those lapsed donors back or get voices of the people you serve talking about why your work is so important. Follow up with a text sharing a simple way to get involved.
  • Keep it simple: It doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as a quick text: “We’ve missed you! Here’s what we have coming up…”
  • Timing: Take advantage of a traditional giving opportunity like year-end donations or Giving Tuesday. Or flip the script and avoid those busy times when every nonprofit organization comes knocking. You could also trigger a message based on the time period since their last gift.
  • To ask or not ask: It’s counter-intuitive, but not every approach needs to ask for money. It all depends on your donor base. Sometimes re-engagement is more valuable than donor dollars. And sometimes that donation will come eventually, but you need to work on the donor relationship before asking for money again.

We’ll Help You Get Results

Nonprofit fundraising can be a tough gig. Getting people to break out their credit cards is hard. But lapsed donors are folks who already support your cause. They’re on board. You just need them to give again.

At Rally, we’re convinced text messaging is the most effective way to reach supporters. We can help you reactivate donors:

You can get started today and reinvigorate your donor engagement.

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