97.8% of the time, lapsed means long gone

Fundraisers in nonprofits large and small devote considerable time and money trying to win back the affection (and gifts) of folks who’ve not shown up for a couple of years or more. And for good reason. The conventional wisdom of our trade tells us that there’s gold in “them thar hills.” Truth be told, I’ve suggested as much myself to trusting clients.


But now comes word from the team at Bloomerang that lapsed pretty much means long gone. Data pulled from the Indiana-based consulting firm’s customer database (several thousand nonprofits) showed that “if a donor hasn’t given in two years, the likelihood that they will give again is about 2.2%.”

In other words, all those SYBUNTS that you continue to count as with you, aren’t. They’ve left the building and won’t be back anytime soon – at least not without a lot of wooing.

So stop wasting time pining after the dearly departed. Instead, the Bloomerang blog advises staking your claim with the live ones in your donor base. This includes

thanking quickly and personally, communicating impact and sharing success stories are great ways to cut down on attrition, and possibly bring lapsed donors back into the fold. Try segmenting your appeals based on demographics, communication channel preference, gift size and frequency for a more personal touch. And, for goodness sake, pick up the phone! A thank you call apropos of nothing will surprise and delight donors (be sure you’re only calling those who have opted in to that channel).

I’ve offered similar advice here (and here and here). And despite my mea culpa in the opening paragraph of this article, I regularly encourage the organizations with which I work to focus first and most on current donors.

If at the end of the calendar or fiscal year, you have time and money on your hands, throw a little in the direction of the SYBUNT list. Miracles do happen. But from what I’ve seen (and the Bloomerang research confirms), as fundraising strategies go, retention beats resurrection every time.

For more on donor retention, see:

Three keys to donor retention: interest, respect, and trust

Donor retention is THE thing

When building a donor base, watch the coming in and going out



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