The wrong way to win back lapsed donors

You know that lapsed donors (those who haven’t given in 13 or more months) are are more valuable to you than never-donors. It costs less to regain a lapsed donor than to get a new donor, and as a group, their average gift is considerably higher than the average gift of new donors.

But someone, somewhere, started a strange rumor about regaining lapsed donors. It is widely believed that the right way to do it is to send a special appeal to them once a year.

The LYBNT Letter is a common practice. But not a very good one. There’s a much more effective way to welcome back lapsed donors, as proposed by the Better Fundraising Blog, at LYBNT Letter ≠ Magic:

… if you have a LYBNT appeal, replace it with a strong appeal and send it to everybody (not just donors who haven’t given a gift this year). You’ll raise the same revenue as the LYBNT letter and you’ll raise even more revenue from current donors.

In my experience, sending your lapsed donors your best “normal” appeal of the year is far more effective than a special appeal. And considerably less expensive.

The Better Fundraising post notes that in cases where LYBNT do well, it’s usually because it has two things going for it:

  1. There are very few other appeals, so this “extra” mailing is one fo the rare opportunities these donors have to give.
  2. In many cases, it’s the only appeal that comes right out and directly asks for a donation. (It’s as if only lapsed donors should suffer the indignity of being asked. Which is a very weird assumption.)

Your best appeal for not-lapsed donors is also the best one for lapsed donors.

One tactical difference I’ve seen work is to ask lapsed donors for lower amounts than you ask current donors. That typically improves response by “lowering the bar” for them. You’d rather have them back at a lower level then lose them entirely, right?

The typical LYBNT Letter is based on a weak assumption: That donors are as aware of and concerned about their recency status as you are.

Bad assumption. Few lapsed donors have any idea that they’re lapsed. And even fewer would really care if they knew. Back when they were current donors, they gave because you put enticing action in front of them — gave them a chance to make the world a better place in a way that mattered to them.

Maybe their income has changed. Maybe there values and priorities have shifted. Or maybe they’ve been more busy and distracted lately. You’ll win them back by sending your most attention-grabbing and motivating appeal.

Every time you go to any donor, no matter how long it’s been since they gave, ask them to do something wonderful that they want to do.

Definitions:

  • LYBNT: A donor who gave Last Year But Not This. Or whose last donation was 13 to 24 months ago.
  • SYBNT: A donor who gave Some Year But Not This. Or whose last donation was 25 or more months ago. Sometimes called Deeply Lapsed.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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