Please Don’t Ignore Your Lapsed Donors.

Want to do better in your fundraising? Get to know the peeps at Bloomerang, purveyors of revolutionary software that affordably and elegantly delivers much needed solutions to our business: tracking and reporting donor data and engagement. I love these guys. Plus the corporate HQ is in my home city of Indianapolis, growing our economy while serving the Greater Good. And that is Shiny.

My friend Steven Shattuck, VP of Marketing at Bloomerang, is a brilliant fellow, one of the great young voices in our industry. And while I generally dislike the moniker “Disrupter” it fits Steven. He published a compelling think piece recently on being over reliant on lapsed donors as a source of future giving. Check it out:

Please Stop Saying Lapsed Donors Are Your “Best Prospects”

Now, we are all products of our experience. I get that. But I don’t quite understand the thesis here, not at all. Are non-profits regularly bragging to Bloomerang about their vast troves of lapsed donors as the primary source of future sustainability? I am not seeing it, at least in my work arts and cultural organizations, human service agencies, and educational organizations. I wish non-profits thought more about lapsed donors, actually. Of late, too many board leadership groups are spending time talking about converting millennial Twitter users via text campaigns involving craft beer and emoji. I am not kidding about this. 

Most organizations have such poor donor data hygiene that they cannot accurately pull basic reporting (donation dates, amounts, designation, response to appeal, contact information, and so on). This is due to bad practices of maintaining donor data first and foremost, thus the need for revolutionary products like Bloomerang.

Why is accurate donor data so rare? Staffing turnover has a great deal to do with it but is only the beginning of the story. The Big Fundraising Software Companies have aggressive sales efforts, and are very effective in convincing non-profit leadership and boards to invest in expensive and complex systems. Look, Raiser’s Edge is a terrific product and I know some power users who can segment majestic data out of the abyss with beauty and ease, but RE unicorns are the exception.

Most gift entry and development services managers (if the job exists at all, and not an 8th responsibility of the Development Director who will only stay 18 months) lack the training and sophistication for a complex product like Raiser’s Edge. An organization buys the Lexus, being promised that a great financial windfall is ahead. But they needed the sturdy Hyundai: simple, affordable and appropriate to the budget.

Most organizations would struggle to produce a list of SYBUNT (some year) donors from the past five years, with up to date contact information and full donor history. But let’s say your organization can do that. We’ve only just begun. Now I want to know (as appropriate):

  • Membership status, current or lapsed? Who is using the facility? Who is taking classes?
  • Subscriber status and history of ticket buying transactions. Who is coming out? How often?
  • Alumni status. When did they graduate and from what program?
  • Volunteer status. Are they now or have they ever been?
  • What events have our prior donor attended in the past?

You get the Idea. Not all past donors are the same.

So yeah, if you simply send expensive full color direct mail packages to the same static, large and unsegmented list, over and over, it is a waste of time and precious resource.

But ignore your past donors? I surely hope not, my friends.

The key here is segmentation and engagement, and this is surely where a product like Bloomerang can help you. When we segment a long lapsed donor list we want to:

  1. Identify past donors who gave multiple years in a row. We all miss an appeal or two. If a donor gave three straight years and then missed one, don’t give up on them. Please.
  2. Identify past donors who are engaged in other ways to our organization. Are they a ticket buyer or subscriber? A current volunteer but lapsed donor? A regular event attendee? You get the idea.We are looking for prospects who behave like current donors in other ways beyond recent giving.
  3. Identify past donors who have similar characteristics with your current donors, like similar zip codes or ticket buying patterns. I am not a fan at all of donor surveys. We aren’t good at constructing them so better not to try. Seriously, asking a donor, “Do we solicit you too much?” can only have one response. Instead we need to measure engagement. And the best engaged constituents show up and give cash. That’s a whole other essay.

So what do we do with a segmented donor list of our top lapsed prospects? We develop a communications strategy, actively engaging our past donors about our mission, inviting them to rejoin the fold, and telling them about our good works and impacts. We pick up the phone.

And yes, we should solicit them regularly. They are a much better source of future revenue that the “Friends and Family of Past Committee Members Who’ve Never Given” or some of Steven’s other creative constituent suggestions.

Where Steven and I agree 100% is on the urgent need for better retention strategies to keep current donors in the family. Non-profits are awful at this, and getting worse year by year. It is quite expensive to acquire donors. And then we don’t call them to say thank you, don’t communicate with them regularly, and too often they don’t hear from us at all until the next solicitation. And we need to do better.

Segment those list. There is Gold in the Data.

About jeremymhatch

If I could, I'd write about nothing but tacos. Alas, I am fundraising and leadership consultant in the arts, focusing on contributed revenue growth for organizations. Send me a compliment or complaint. And the location for the good tacos in your town.
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