Lapsed Donors: How To Win Them Back and Keep Them

Just because a donor has lapsed doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. We're here to help you get started with identifying lapsed donors and winning them back.

As a nonprofit team, it’s likely you’ve heard the stats on donor retention before: acquiring a new donor typically costs five times more than retaining a current one. This can cause any development team to bristle if they start to notice an increase in lapsed donors—those who have ceased their donations based on a particular timeline.
However, just because a donor has lapsed doesn’t mean they’re gone forever. Tracking and engaging with your lapsed donors can help you gauge the effectiveness of your retention strategy and pinpoint where to make any needed adjustments to reduce this figure each year.

Below, we’ll help you get started by covering:

  • How to define lapsed donors within your nonprofit
  • Ways to identify lapsed donors in your fundraising list
  • Tips for winning back your lapsed donors


Download: Donor Cultivation & Stewardship Plan Template

What Are Lapsed Donors?

Lapsed donors are donors who haven’t donated to your nonprofit within an expected timeframe. You can use different timelines to measure this depending on the type of donor. Here are a couple of examples:

  • A donor who used to give a monthly, recurring gift has stopped doing so. You can identify these lapsed donors within a month of their stopped gift. Once you notice they’ve ceased their monthly gift, you can check whether they have simply changed the frequency of their donation or are no longer engaged in giving.

  • A donor who typically gives annually didn’t give this year. Many lapsed donors will fall into this category. They might generally give an annual end-of-year gift or otherwise engage in one of your fundraising events per year. If, at the end of the year, they haven’t, you should include them in your lapsed donors list and look to understand what stopped their involvement with your nonprofit that year.

While you can customize the timeline you use for identifying lapsed donors, typically, nonprofits will use one, two, or three years since a donor’s last gift to identify lapsed donors. If it has been more than three years since a donor gave a gift to your nonprofit, you can consider them a former donor rather than a lapsed donor. Strategies to re-engage former donors will look more like recruiting new donors than engaging current or lapsed ones.

How Can You Identify Lapsed Donors?

The easiest way to identify lapsed donors is to look at year-over-year data. You want to compare your list of donors who gave in one year, at any point and with any frequency, to your list of donors who then gave in the subsequent year. Any donors who gave in the previous year but not in the next should be added to your lapsed donors list.

This list can be particularly insightful if you compile both the total number of donors lapsed and the corresponding dollar amount for the lapsed donations. Doing so brings to light how much revenue your nonprofit can save by effectively re-engaging this group.

To keep things simple, donors who may have changed the frequency or amount of their donation from year to year don’t get included in this compilation, as they’re still viewed as being engaged with your organization. Their personal circumstances may have changed, but they’re still showing a commitment to your nonprofit through whatever donation amount they’re able to provide. In terms of a re-engagement strategy for lapsed donors, you want to focus on those who have fully stopped giving from year to year.

What Are LYBUNT and SYBUNT Reports?

If pulling lapsed donor data seems complicated, know that you don’t need to pull it all manually. There are easy reports you can run in your donor database to identify lapsed donors.

These are the two most important reports for this process:

  • LYBUNT Report: Short for “Last Year But Unfortunately Not This Year,” the LYBUNT report gives you a look at donors worth immediately engaging to not let additional time pass. A donor who didn’t give this year but did last year is much easier to connect with than a donor who didn’t give this year but gave five years ago.

  • SYBUNT Report: Short for “Some Year But Unfortunately Not This Year,” the SYBUNT report gives a look at your overall retention rates to identify larger aspects of your donor engagement and retention plans that may need work to shrink your SYBUNT list over time. Ultimately, you want fewer and fewer donors to end up on your list of donors who don’t return each year.

3 Tips for Winning Back Lapsed Donors

Once you’ve identified your lapsed donors, how do you win them back? Overall, the key is to keep your engagement personalized and actionable. The three tips below dig into the details of how to operationalize this.

1. Tailor your language to the timeline.

When you reach out to your lapsed donors, you want to personalize your message as much as possible. One way to do this is to tailor the language to the amount of time since their last gift. This conveys to them that you care enough about them as a donor to notice their absence.

For example, here are some ways the phrasing in your appeals may change based on the amount of time the donor has been lapsed:

  • 1 year: Your gift in 2020 really made an impact. We miss you!
  • 2 years: Your support in recent years has really helped us make an impact.
  • 3 years: We haven’t heard from you in a while, and wanted to make sure you’re up-to-date on the latest ways we’ve made an impact thanks to supporters like you.
2. Offer customized, easy ways to give.

Winning back a lapsed donor needs to be as frictionless of a process as possible. When making an ask for an additional gift, you’ll want to focus on creating customized and easy ways for them to donate.

Here are a few key items to consider:

  • Highlight options for automatic, recurring giving: People have become used to subscription-based models—think services like Netflix or Hello Fresh. By offering an option to donate to your nonprofit through a monthly auto-charge, you give lapsed donors an effortless way to give that they’re already used to through other services.
  • Offer different payment options: Donors appreciate having choice when it comes to how they give. Accepting a variety of payment types may entice lapsed donors to make a new donation. In addition to accepting credit cards, explore options such as PayPal, Venmo, ACH transfer, Google Pay, and Apple Pay.
  • Streamline your giving forms: Collect only what’s necessary to process a donation. Allow text boxes to auto-fill when available. Overall, make your donation form a simple process. You can always follow-up with donors later to collect additional stewardship data.
  • Customize your ask by donor segment: If your lapsed donor previously gave a $10 donation, you don’t want to ask for a $100 donation in your re-engagement appeal. Instead, segment your lapsed donors list into cohorts based on their past giving amount and tailor your ask to an amount in line with their giving history.

3. Provide ways for them to reconnect with your mission.

Lapsed donors need to be able to remember why they gave to your nonprofit in the first place. To inspire them to give again, you want to show them the impact of the work you do and provide opportunities for them to connect back to your mission.

Before even asking them to donate again, you may want to send them some content or invite them to an event where the focus is telling the story of your nonprofit.

Here are a few ways you can reconnect lapsed donors to your mission:

  • Volunteer opportunities: Invite them to your latest park clean-up, food drive, or other volunteer activity that will give them hands-on experience with your mission.
  • Short videos: Send lapsed donors a quick video from your executive director saying hello and giving them an update on your latest work. You can also do short videos that provide tours of your site, highlight beneficiaries, or anything else that can connect your supporters to your work.
  • Event invitations: Is your annual gala or fun run coming up? Send an invitation to your lapsed donors! If you’re planning any networking events or other opportunities for in-person interaction, those are perfect times to reconnect with lapsed donors and get them excited about supporting your work again.
  • Emotional imagery: Rather than a text-heavy appeal letter, connect with your lapsed donors through emotional imagery that draws them in and engages them with your mission. Help them visualize how their support makes a difference.

Identify, Connect With, and Win Back Your Lapsed Donors

Identifying your list of lapsed donors can feel like a worrying process, but remember that they’re not lost yet! By identifying which donors have lapsed since the previous year, you open a door to be able to re-engage them.

You can retain them as supporters through customized outreach and reminding them of why they gave in the first place.


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