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Fundraising 101 : 10 Things You Need to Know About Reactivating Lapsed Donors

August 2009 By Lawrence Henze
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The more you know about your lapsed donors — their characteristics, interests and relationships to your organization — the better prepared you are to recapture these donors or, more importantly, prevent them from lapsing in the first place. Prevention is perhaps the strongest strategy in addressing lapsed-donor issues. Consider the following when developing your donor-retention strategy:

1. Proactive research
Acquisition for the sole purpose of bringing in new donors, without an eye toward donor retention, might be the major factor in high attrition or lapse rates. Why build an acquisition profile on a group of donors with a 50 percent to 75 percent attrition rate?

The solution is to build acquisition-to-retention model profiles that identify the characteristics of acquired donors who persist in their giving for two to three years. It's a much better strategy because you can identify persistent donors and their common characteristics and focus on acquisition lists that mirror these characteristics. Better yet, use a donor-retention model to score acquisition lists, and only mail prospects with a high likelihood to respond and persist over time.

2. Lifetime potential
Admittedly, it is difficult to quantify lifetime donor value (ultimate giving), but predictive modeling could identify target gift potential as well as major- and planned-giving likelihood, which are great indicators of ultimate giving behavior. Operating under the assumption that all donors are not of equal value to your organization, prospects with high planned- or major-giving potential as well as projected growth in annual giving levels have greater value. Scoring acquired donors annually identifies those individuals with the greatest ultimate gift potential.

3. Stewardship
If you know the donors most likely to be retained and the donors with greater ultimate giving potential (the first two points here), you can initiate stewardship efforts that increase the likelihood these donors will continue to give to your organization. The best lapsed-donor strategies are proactive and include positive steps to ensure that annual support does not stop in the first place. Call these donors and thank them for their gifts. Do not overwhelm them with repeated efforts to secure additional gifts. Report on the uses of gift money, and whenever possible, find out what they like about your organization and their specific interests so you can build a donor-centered relationship.

4. Solicitation frequency
Target Analytics' research indicates that there often is an inverse relationship between the frequency of solicitation and donor retention or movement to ultimate giving potential. Many people recommend that you solicit for the second gift as you thank for the first, but what effect does that have on your retention rate? If your goal is to maximize the number of donors annually without fearing high attrition rates, that may be one strategy (not mine), but it is unlikely to result in donor growth and success in major and planned giving. Think before you ask over and over — it might not create the best image for your organization and flies in the face of donor- centered fundraising. It is important to fully understand how your organization solicits through all channels — direct mail, telemarketing and e-mail/Internet — and investigate opportunities in order to reduce and simplify solicitation activity.


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