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How to Write a Winning Lapsed Donor Letter

As a fundraiser, you know that reactivating lapsed donors takes significant time and effort. But if your lapsed donor letters aren’t doing the trick, it might be time to change your approach. Follow along as we show you how to write a lapsed donor letter that rekindles your donor’s interest and brings these valuable supporters back to the fold.

Before we dive into our letter-writing tips, let’s define the two types of lapsed donors and why you should be working to win them back. Fundraisers commonly use the acronyms LYBUNT and SYBUNT when referring to lapsed donors. LYBUNT—standing for Last Year But Unfortunately Not This—is a donor who gave in the preceding year (calendar or fiscal) year but not this year. SYBUNTS are donors who gave Some Year But Unfortunately Not This year.

Nonprofits must have a lapsed donor strategy

Lapsed donor letter example

Some fundraisers are skeptical about soliciting these supporters, assuming they aren’t worth the ROI. Rather than invest in lapsed donor mailings, they concentrate their time and resources on acquiring new donors. Others may solicit them here and there, perhaps lumping them in with their donor renewal campaigns.

The reality is, lapsed donor appeals are not only more cost-effective than donor acquisition mailings, but also more fruitful. According to Forbes, it is five times more costly to attract new customers than keep existing ones. When you consider it takes 18 to 24 months to recoup the cost of attracting first-time donors, lapsed donors are worth their weight in gold.

Reactivating a donor is also easier than acquiring a new one. Lapsed donors have already told you that they care about your mission; they made that loud and clear when making their first donation. From that point on, your job is easy: reconnect with them, remind them why they supported your mission, and invite them to do so again.

Unlike a prospect, with a lapsed donor, you already know what they’re capable of giving, their preferred contribution method, and where their passion lies. All you need to do is utilize the data you’ve collected in your constituent database to target the right audience and craft a personalized appeal.

Using your CRM, you can now pull your mailing lists based on your donor’s last gift date (most CRM’s have standard LYBUNT and SYBUNT reports). Since your LYBUNT message will differ from your SYBUNT message, be sure to keep these mailing lists separate. And don’t forget to double-triple-check your criteria. The last thing you want is to insult a loyal supporter with language that indicates they haven’t given recently.

Now comes the fun part. You don’t need aa journalism degree to compose a winning lapsed donor letter. Just follow our tried-and-true strategies to write effective fundraising letters to recover your lapsed donors in no time.

Writing an effective lapsed donor letter

At one time, your lapsed donor supported your cause. Your job is simply to remind them of your mission along with their individual impact. But a word of caution here: donors who contributed 12 to 24 months ago may not consider themselves lapsed. In their minds, they support your cause. While there’s no harm in saying you miss them, stay away from giving them a guilt trip or referring to them as a former donor. Instead, focus on the good work your nonprofit is able to do because of them, calling attention to the impact of their generosity.

1. Your lapsed letter should tell a story and make the donor the hero.

Many fundraising communications are centered on the organization: what they’ve accomplished, what they’re doing, and what they need. What about your letters? Are they filled with pronouns like “I”, “we”, and “us?” If so, it’s time for a new approach: switch the focus of your lapsed donor letter from your charity to your donor.

A compelling story that shows the transformative power of your donors’ generosity will pull them in, make them feel special, and help them visualize their role in your mission. Donor-centric letters work, hands down, because your donor feels needed, valued, and heroic. So if you want to win back your donor’s mind, heart, and wallet, don’t just make them a hero – make them your superhero.

2. Make your fundraising letter to donors ugly!

Quite the opposite of the formal business letters we were taught to write in school, an ugly letter is one that appears clunky, informal, and even a little tacky. Think short, indented paragraphs, bolded words, underlined sentences, and size 14 or 16 font (yes, that big!). While your designers and marketers may turn up their noses to this unattractive structure and style, your donors will thank you. Ugly letters work because they’re easy on the eyes, simple to understand, and make your key points and call to action stand out.

3. Make your letter personal.

Telling your donors you miss them is important; showing you miss them with a genuine, personable letter with a conversational tone is even better. Always address the donor by his or her preferred name and be sure the letter comes from a specific person as opposed to your organization or department. Include as many personal details as possible: how long they’ve supported your mission, the last time they gave, the cause they last supported—whatever it takes to remind them how they used to support you and why they should again.

4. Provide a clear call to action.

Just as you would do in any other fundraising letter, you should clearly state the course of action your donor should take. Tell them where their donation will be directed and what will be achieved as a result. Ask them to send their gift before a certain time period. Last but not least, be sure to provide personalized ask amounts, both in the letter copy and on the pledge card.

Fundraising Letter Template

Writing a lapsed donor letter may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Whether you work for a social cause, a health care organization, or a faith-based mission, follow our tips for writing effective lapsed donor letters to start reactivating your donors today.

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