Wouldn’t it be great if donors always did what you wanted them to? If everyone in your file was the perfect little donor, giving through automated recurring gifts, responding to each and every special appeal and pledging themselves to your organization, from the first gift to writing you into their will.

It sure sounds nice, but anyone who has been in the nonprofit world for even the smallest amount of time knows that the perfect little donor does not exist. As thankful as you are for their support, you know that sometimes donors don’t behave how you want them to – they don’t respond when you ask, their cards expire and never get updated, they default on pledges or drop off the map completely. Le sigh.

But you don’t have to settle for disappearing donors and donations lost. Here is what you should do when donors do what you don’t want.

When they…

Give once but don’t give again.

Look at your onboarding process. While to you the point of donation feels like finally sealing the deal, to the donor, it is just the start of his or her relationship with you. When a donor gives for the first time, that is your invitation to begin cultivating them for a second, third or recurring gift. If this onboarding process isn’t there, donors could easily drop off as if they had never given. Remember: most donors give to multiple organizations, and they will ultimately be drawn to where they feel special and needed.

Lucky for you, we’ve taken the guesswork out of how to welcome new donors with our free New Donor Welcome Kit, which includes copy, art files and all you need to get started.

Don’t respond to an appeal.

If a donor who has given multiple times in the past does not respond to an appeal, there are two places where you can look for answers: your appeal and the donor.

If the appeal was low performing across the board, it’s likely that there was an issue with the appeal itself. Perhaps the ask was not compelling enough, the copy did not present a strong enough call to action or the design made it difficult for the donor to figure out how to respond. Consider having a team of experts review your mail or email to determine how it can be optimized, and always measure what types of asks perform best.

If the appeal seemed to have an average response, there are countless reasons why an individual donor might not have responded. Due to personal or financial factors, it’s impossible to make assumptions from one appeal, but if a donor stops responding over time, it’s a good opportunity to take a look at that relationship and look for ways to communicate better. Perhaps the donor prefers a different channel of communication, such as email instead of mail. Maybe it’s time to reach out and do something personal for the donor, such as asking how you can pray for them. Or it could be a sign that their engagement with your organization is dwindling, which brings us to when they…

Stop giving. 

If a donor who makes recurring donations stops giving without explanation, this should be a red flag that something is wrong. This lapse in giving could be due to a variety of factors: some benign, temporary factors such as a tough financial month or an expired credit card, or more difficult, permanent factors such as anger at your organization.

Whenever a donor lapses, you will want to make every attempt to get that donor back – and the sooner, the better. During the first one to six months of not giving, assume the best and try personal, non-invasive methods of stopping the donor from lapsing: emails about payments not going through, or perhaps a phone call to check in and see how things are going. This is a great opportunity to prevent lapses from loyal donors or discover negativity or misconceptions before it’s too late.

After six months to a year of not giving, the donor is considered officially “lapsed.” And while you might keep these donors in your mail file, simply continuing to send general appeals is not enough to get them back on board. You need a reactivation plan.

While it varies by demographic and amount of time lapsed, a reactivation plan for lower-level donors typically involves a special appeal with a strong human, emotional or urgent component, designed to grab donors’ attention and remind them why they gave to you in the first place. Major donors should always be contacted personally to get them back on board.

Remember that your lapsed donors are some of your best prospects. They know you, and they believed in you enough to give to you before. Before investing a fortune in new donor acquisition, start with those you already know.

While you can’t always control how donors respond to you, there are strategies you can use –such as onboarding, tailored communications and quick response to lapses – to help minimize the loss and keep them engaged.

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