Why Donors Lapse and How You Can Stop It

One thing that happens as you get older is that the Christmas season becomes a bit less about wonder, awe and toys and becomes more about details, plans and socks. I remember that year of transition when I realized that my days of getting sweet presents was over and I wouldn’t be getting any more Nerf guns.

But here’s the thing, socks are just much more useful for me. And what would I really do with a Nerf gun? December for many organizations is an important time where they raise a lot of money, in some cases half or more of their annual budgets, and the focus is often on the fancy things. The cool stuff. The Nerf guns. And while you have to do some that, December is a great time to look at something much more practical for you and has a longer term benefit: donor retention.

Because January is coming fast and, hopefully, there will be a lot of new gifts and gift renewals so now is the time to start thinking about this. Think of it as a donor lapse prevention program. And with that in mind, here are three things you can do help stop donors from lapsing in 2016:

  1. Ask them to take other actions based on their beliefs.

    When people feel connected to your cause they are more likely to get involved, stay involved and give. A connection can be established through great stories, communications and personal relationships – as noted above – but a connection can also be established through actions.

    This is where a great CRM can help as well. If you can establish a connection or learn what motivates your supporters but can’t keep track of that somehow in some ways it’s all for not. So whether you ask donors to sign a petition, publicly support a belief statement or volunteer their time, talent and expertise, you want to make sure you can track these connection points for the future.

    And the key to these actions is that it has to be about them. Why would they want to sign your petition? Why would they publicly share or support you? Why would they volunteer for you? More often than not, it is about what they believe. What they value. And that’s what needs to remain in focus when presenting these action opportunities.

    If they do it, what does this say about them and what they believe?

  2. Tell them the difference they are making – frequently and before you ask again.

    This seems so simple and straightforward and yet most organizations still don’t do enough in this arena. Three key points here:

    1. It’s the difference THEY are making. So it’s positioned as what they are doing but it’s also related to a specific area – preferably the area you talked about when asking. What’s the update? How are things going? Who is one person benefitting?
    2. Report back before you ask again. Why should they give again if you haven’t provided an update on the last gift? If you give your child money to buy food at the mall and they come back 15 minutes later asking for more, you’ll most likely ask “what did you do with the money I just gave you?”. Donors, should, ask the same of you.
    3. Under communication hurts more than overcommunication. A common misconception is that donors don’t like it when they get communications from nonprofits. Donors don’t like it when they get crappy communications from nonprofits! If you go months without communicating to donors it’s easy for them to lose interest, forget about their donation and the work that you do. Couple this point with #2 and the communications only seem to be about asking without any updates – that’s why donors leave.
  3. Ask them to give monthly.

    This may not be an overly sexy or new idea but it can be an extremely valuable one for you and a useful one for them. Donors who give monthly statistically stick around longer – 5 to 10 years according to some experts and their research. And with pre-authorized payments donors aren’t lost for administrative reasons – they forgot to give, didn’t get your direct mail appeal, etc. – but intentional ones.

    Some of the best times to ask people to give monthly are:

    1. In January/February. This should obviously be tested, but a lot of plans and visions for the future are made in January and February. Tax statements often go out and there is some guilt hangover from the end of the year.
    2. After a one-time donation. This can’t be aggressive and you need to reward and thank donors for their donation, but they are more likely to take another action after a first action. Sharing the benefits, and impact, of recurring donations soon after a one-time donation can work well.
    3. After an email sign up. Similar concept to after a one-time donation, they have clearly expressed an interest in your organization so as part of a welcome series, one featuring monthly giving is a great idea.


    It’s never a bad time to be thinking about how you can satisfy your donors and keep them around longer. Thinking through a donor lapse prevention plan for January and February, now, is a great idea so you can get ahead, keep donors and be in a better position come this time next year.

    To learn how you can better connect with your supporters, and keep tabs on those connections, with a modern nonprofit CRM, schedule a demo with us to learn more about Virtuous.

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