Lapsed Donors: How to Write a Fundraising Letter That Wins Them Back
Your definition may differ, but I define a lapsed donor as someone who has not donated to your organization within the last year, two years or three years. Donors who have not sent you a gift in over three years are not lapsed donors. They are former donors.
Lapsed donors are valuable. Unlike strangers, they have supported you before. And they believe in your mission enough to have sent you a gift (or gifts). That means they are worth mailing to. You can expect to receive an 11 percent response rate from a mailing to lapsed donors if your results are typical, says fundraising expert Kent Dove (Conducting a Successful Fundraising Program. Jossey-Bass, 2001).
Here are some tips on writing an appeal letter that will win them back. In the fund development profession, the letter you write is called a recovery letter because it aims to recover donors who have lapsed.
1. Write to one person
2. Say "we miss you"
3. Invite the donor to come back
4. Customize your appeal
"The last time we heard from you, you had generously responded to the humanitarian crisis in Honduras. You sent us a gift that helped us meet the immediate needs of that emergency. Today, I am writing to you because I think you can help us overcome another crisis."
5. Match your language to the length of lapse
6. Tailor your ask
7. Win back their hearts and minds
The two most important things to say in a recovery letter are that you miss the donor and that their support made a big difference in the lives of the people your organization serves. "A carefully crafted appeal that lets past donors know they are important, appreciated and missed almost always produces a net income," says Stanley Weinstein (The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management).
© 2005 Sharpe Copy Inc. You may reprint this article online and in print provided the links remain live and the content remains unaltered (including the "About the author" message).
Alan Sharpe is a professional fundraising letter writer who helps non-profits raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using creative fundraising letters. Learn more about his services, view free sample fundraising letters, and sign up for free weekly tips like this at fundraisingletters.org.
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