Engaging Lapsed Donors

Engaging Lapsed Donors

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When I had you to myself, I didn't want you around.
Those pretty faces always made you stand out in a crowd.
But someone picked you from the bunch, one glance was all it took.
Now it's much too late for me to take a second look.

Oh, give me one more chance
To show you that I love you.
Won't you please let me back in your heart?
Oh, darlin', I was blind to let you go, But now, since I see you in his arms,
I want you back.


Last week, I watched a YouTube video of the Jackson 5 singing “I Want You Back.” The stanzas above start the song. The more I listened, I realized that Michael could have been singing to a lapsed donor, the messaging similar. How do we win our donors back? How do we get them back in our hearts?
According to fundraising studies, it is far easier to keep your current donors than to win back lapsed donors. Regaining the trust of donors that have disengaged from your work and mission often takes a great amount of effort, often with a small return. Years ago, I worked at an organization that solicited lapsed donors, and the response was less than favorable. Some donors took the time to explain their reluctance to give again:

  • “I supported the past leadership. I am not pleased with the new direction the organization is taking.”
  • “My financial position has changed. I can no longer give.”
  • “I was a board member. My term ended.”
  • “I no longer volunteer with the organization.”
  • “I didn’t receive an acknowledgement letter for my donations.”
  • “No one told me how my donation was used.”

Some of the reasons above are beyond our control. New leadership is inevitable, and some donors will disengage when organizations change leaders. Financial strength will also waver for some of our donors, and we must account for that, too.


However, there are steps that we can take to not only maintain our current donors but also to re-engage our lapsed donors. When key leadership, e.g. board members, step down, do we continue to engage with them? Perhaps, ask for their presence on committees or their advice on an upcoming event or program. Think about how flattered you are when you are asked for your input on special projects.


Also, ensure that you thank your donors. Acknowledgement can present itself in many forms, including a:

  • Standard letter with tax-exempt wording
  • Handwritten note mailed to the donor
  • Donor acknowledgement event
  • Phone call or email from executive leadership
  • Face-to-face expression of gratitude
  • Donor wall

Just as important as acknowledging your donors is reporting back on how their donations have been used. If their support was directed to college scholarships for young adults, invite two or three of those recipients to write letters of gratitude or present at a program.


Give statistics about the use of donor contributions. For example:
“We raised $5,000 from 50 donors. With these gifts, we provided school backpacks and supplies for 100 children.” Donors can link their gifts to tangible results and feel good about how their contributions were spent.

Can lapsed donors return to the fold? Absolutely. Remind these donors that the need for their gifts is still present. Illuminate your mission. Put strategies in place for acknowledging and reporting back to them. And ask for their input where appropriate.

Blessings to you as you continue the work of the United Church of Christ.
Jacqueline Owen
Development Strategist
National Setting - United Church of Christ

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Generous Thoughts

Generous Thoughts is a collaborative effort of UCC stewardship, generosity, fundraising, and development professionals to provide our conferences and congregations with information to aid them in their fundraising efforts. The SNEUCC is represented ...

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