Tag Archives: Follow-up

Reignite Your Lapsed Supporters

By David A. Mersky

You just finished your year-end rush and have begun planning for next year. But before you turn the calendar page to February, one important question remains: Who were the people, no matter how many times you asked, who gave in two years ago but did not give last year?

These people — your lapsed supporters — represent an enormous fundraising opportunity for your nonprofit … provided you can understand what happened and reawaken their support for your organization.

Some suggestions…

#1. Know who your lapsed donors are.

Identify them by the date and amount of their most recent gift and by the date and amount of their largest gift to your organization. Then do your research to understand their philanthropic capacity. 

Electronic vetting of both donors and prospects will provide a deep understanding of where these individuals sit in terms of their publicly acknowledged gifts, political participation, compensation, board memberships, place(s) of residence, and overall wealth. You may not be able to speak with all lapsed donors; this type of analysis allows you to focus on those who represent the greatest potential.

Further, if you received a five-hundred-dollar donation in the past but see that this same individual gifted five thousand to another nonprofit, you know that there is an opportunity to win some of that love for your organization.

#2. Be ready with an apology.

As you begin the process of reconnecting, be prepared to apologize, especially if you discover that the reason this person did not renew their support was because they were upset about something you did or did not do (such as failing to thank them properly).

“I’m so sorry we did not connect last year. I would really like to understand why such a faithful supporter of our organization as you, who gave $X for Y years, did not do so last year. I want to make sure it was nothing we did so we can be certain it does not happen again.”

#3. Bring them up to date. 

Remind them that at one point they were among your valued supporters, whether through their time, talent, or treasure.

Then share how their contribution in the past has enabled you to … serve 500 kids in your mental health clinic; help 250 people find new jobs or get trained on new skills; enable 600 inner-city kids to go to summer camp.

In other words, reconnect them to the “Why” behind their past giving.Help them rediscover the affinity they felt for your organization. You might ask a series of open-ended questions:

“What do you remember about your time with us?”

“What past achievement of our organization are you most proud of?”

“What did you find most inspiring?”

These questions are intended to help restart a two-way conversation.

#4. Regain their trust. 

This first reconnection is not the time to ask for money. Instead, engage them with future-oriented questions: 

“What do you think about the fact that we sent so many kids to summer camp?”

“What do you think we could have done differently (if there were problems)?”

“How might we improve program X or deliver it more effectively?”

Are they optimistic about the future? Do they share fond memories about the past? Are they energized about your recent achievements and generally satisfied with the direction of your organization?

Ask for their opinion (which they are generally happy to share) and listen, listen, listen.

#5. Determine the next step. 

If you feel that the embers have been reignited, it may be time to engage them in a straightforward way: Come to an event. Join us in volunteering at our foodbank. Consider mentoring one of our young people.

When you reengage them in activity, their money will follow.

That said, if none of the steps you have taken have been successful, at some point you have to bless and release them. As a former client of mine, a Jesuit priest, used to say to me: “After I have done everything I possibly can to engage with a donor, I wish them well. I tell them our work will continue and we hope they will resume their support. Above all, I wish them all the best in whatever they do.”

You want to leave them not with a sense that you feel resentment, but that you recognize them as valued members of the community who are choosing to do other things with their resources. All of this serves to give you positive buzz in the community.

Planning is key

After current donors, your most ideal prospects are your lapsed supporters. They are familiar with your organization and have already demonstrated a willingness to support your goals and purpose. Often, all it takes to bring them back is your sincere outreach and attention.

The beginning of your annual plan should be to focus on as many of these promising individuals as possible.  

Follow-Up: Fundraising’s Essential Action

By David A. Mersky

Recently, a colleague of mine was working with a nonprofit group to convene a gateway event. Gateways are used to introduce prospective, new major donors to the organization. The chosen venue was wonderful and RSVPs in the affirmative exceeded expectations.

Attendance was another matter— there was a 50% drop off from those who said they would attend to those who actually did. Further, there was no plan in place for reaching out to invitees in the days following.

Establishing a clear plan for follow-up* — to leverage the experience of those who attended and to continue engaging the group in the organization’s mission and goals — is vital for success.

The “Big Event” is Just the Beginning

When organizing a gala or gateway event, it’s understandable that the early focus is on the event itself. But from a long term, fundraising perspective, the occasion is just step one. It is the opening gambit in a process of engagement, relationship-building, and stewardship, all of which will ultimately yield the greatest philanthropic investment.

Consistent and effective follow-up is what makes all of this happen. That’s because when you make the effort to reach out to another person, you are saying, “You are important to me and our relationship matters.”

With that in mind, I offer three suggestions…

#1. Move Quickly

A follow-up call to attendees and non-attendees should occur within 48 hours. You want to make contact while the event is still fresh in their minds and before they have moved on to other things on their plate.

And yes, I am unapologetically old school in my belief that a phone call — not an email and certainly not a text — is the best medium for this task. The objective is an open-ended conversation in which you can hear the tone and emotion in the voice of the other person.

#2. Think Strategically

Who within your organization is best equipped to manage the relationship going forward? This is the person who should make the call. This may be a peer, board member, committee member, or member of the senior staff (hint: it’s not a summer intern!).

Remember that your list of invitees consists of key accounts — people who you hope will provide a meaningful gift at some point. It may or may not happen right away, so think strategically about who can best shepherd that personal connection over time.

#3. Act Deliberately

Every person on your invitee list was put there for a reason; each represents a future opportunity. So follow up with everyone, regardless of whether or not they attended. 

For those who did not attend, let them know that you were sorry to have missed them and that you hope they can join you at another event in the future.

For everyone else, ask:

What was your experience? 

Did you learn anything that was worthwhile? Was there anything that felt off target? What could we do to improve your experience in the future? Again, the key is to initiate a meaningful conversation.

Is there any way that you could see yourself becoming more involved with us?

You are looking to see if they have the time and if you have stimulated them to volunteer.

A common response to this question is for the other person to ask, “What would becoming more involved look like?” So make sure you have two or three specific things in mind that might advance the objectives of your organization. Would you be willing to host an event in your home or at your office? Would you be willing to serve on one of our committees? Would you come and speak to a group of our students (if the organization were a school)?

We know that those who become more involved end up making a greater financial contribution. This can be the point at which that involvement begins.

Can you recommend anyone else that we should invite to future events like this?

We must always be working to expand the size of our respective lists. People tend to know and socialize with others like themselves, so by making this inquiry, you are likely to be referred to other promising individuals.

Make Follow-Up an Organizational Imperative

When you follow up with a potential donor, you are validating the other person while improving the long-term giving potential for your organization. 

Done well, it is a win-win for everyone involved and an important habit to develop for yourself and your colleagues.


*You may be wondering why “follow-up” sometimes takes a hyphen and sometimes not. Well, as my children and grandchildren will tell you, I am a stickler for proper grammar in writing and speech. “Follow-up” is an unusual phrase in that it should be hyphenated when used as a noun or adjective, but not when used as a verb.