As we wind down the year 2011, we reflect on a year of challenges, both with the economy and its affect on philanthropy. One of the most daunting challenges our clients deal with seems to be what to do about their lapsed donors. Lapsed donors are generally considered those who have not given a gift in 18 months to 3 years. The amount of time varies from client to client, but nonetheless this appears to be an issue for most of the wonderful organizations I am privileged enough to work with. For many nonprofits the addition of a down economy can make re-engaging these former loyal donors difficult. Most of the clients I work with also report shrinking budgets and staff levels.
One strategy might be look at recruiting these lapsed donors as volunteers. When your lapsed donors provide feedback that they do not currently have the financial resources to provide near-term support to your organization, look at this as an opportunity to try engaging them as a volunteers, especially those who have not done so in the past. Most charities find volunteerism to be an integral part of their operation, so finding ways for these former donors to help your organization in this manner would be a way for them to play an important role. Some organizations, like animal shelters and arts organizations, rely heavily upon volunteers to do many of the day-to-day activities. Educational institutions such as colleges and schools often utilize alumni as phonathon volunteers. No matter what needs your volunteers fulfill, the experience of being around the constituency you serve and mission your organization advances will continue to provide a growing connection. They may also learn the critical role that philanthropy plays in sustaining your financially viability.
As prospect researchers and fundraisers we can then look to our databases and vendor services to obtain wealth/income factors, investible assets, business relationship and ownership data, philanthropic connections/donations, and other internal and external variables. Now add in the data variable that tracks their volunteering and gift history with your organization and hopefully we can take that important group of lapsed donors and re-engage them as viable donors to our organization again. Bottom line is that once these lapsed donors are financially stable again, hopefully their volunteer experience will help create a stronger affinity for your organization and thus ignite a desire and inclination to give a gift and continue their giving for years to come. This happened to me with a small animal shelter I was involved with as a volunteer and eventual major donor. The experience of assisting with the animals was an extremely important factor that helped me develop a strong bond with the organization. Eventually I saw the importance of financial support to this nonprofit. Simply being a volunteer creates a compelling reason to support an organization by creating a much deeper understanding and connection to your organization, so cultivating volunteers could prove to have a lasting financial impact.
*Carol Belair is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.