Ready, Set, Re-Engage: How to Reactivate Lapsed Donors

Ryan Jones • May 07, 2020

Repeat donors are the lifeblood of any nonprofit organization. And first-time donors inject new energy and support into your programs. But what about your other donors, the ones who have given but aren’t a member of the tribe yet?

Getting donors to give a second time can be a tough nut to crack: this post suggests that only 23% of donors give a second time. But don’t despair, because of that 23%, 64% are likely to give a third time, and those supporters become your family of regular, repeat donors. The more your audience interacts with your cause (and you!), the more likely they are to give.

But what do you do about the other 77% who give one time and then disappear?

What are LYBUNT and SYBUNT?

Would you be surprised to learn that these are not baseball terms? I didn’t think so. If you google around the web these days, you’ll probably find nonprofit gurus using both of these strange-looking acronyms—but what do they mean?


Last Year But Unfortunately Not This year. Don’t me ask why it isn’t LYBUNTY, I don’t make the rules. LYBUNT donors gave once and then did not give the following year.


Some Years But Unfortunately Not This year. These are your more erratic donors, who give some years but not other years.

So, these are handy, short-form ways to refer to the donors who you are trying to get to rejoin your flock.

Steal these 10 Email Templates to Boost Recurring Donations

Use these examples to create engaging stories and design beautiful emails.

How to Identify Lapsed Donors

Chances are you’re using a CRM to manage your donor database. And any well-appointed CRM is going to let you run reports that will show you your LYBUNT and SYBUNT donors. If you’re doing it manually in a spreadsheet, you’re not out of luck – this post has instructions on how to establish recency (to identify LYBUNT donors) and frequency (to ferret out SYBUNT supporters). Once you’ve figured out how to find your lapsed donors, it’s a good idea to save those searches or formulae so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every year.

Learning from Lapsed Donors

If you’ve identified your lapsed donors, wait for a tick before you start spamming them with fundraising emails and phone calls. Now is not the time to panic, it’s time to strategize. Here are a few easy things you can do to learn from your lapsed donors and improve your organization’s overall strategy.

Why They Left

Look at the data you’ve gleaned from your CRM and try to establish patterns that may have led to donor lapses. If you notice that lots of donors dropped off during a global recession, there isn’t a lot you can do about that. But if you have a segment that stopped giving after a change you made (for example, to your communications program—more or fewer emails, a different social media approach, changes to your online donation page, etc.) that’s valuable information to have for the future.

Test Retention Strategies

If you are running multiple programs aimed at retaining donors, now is a great time to see which ones are working. So if you have a segment of active donors who received one retention program and a high percentage gave the next year, you know that one is working well. But if your other retention strategy produced a bunch of LYBUNTs, it’s time to kick it to the curb.

Set KPIs

While it’s a step in the right direction to look at your donor database to see if trends are moving in the right direction, it’s a much bigger step in a really awesome direction to attach metrics to your efforts. 

Key Performance Indicators (sorry about all the acronyms) are standards that you set for your organization as a way to measure how well your strategy is working. KPIs are benchmarks for specific aspects of your business. In this case, setting a KPI for donor retention is a great way to see how well you’re doing year after year. That way you can track whether you win back lapsed donors and can pinpoint exactly what made that a success as part of your overall donor retention strategy. 

5 Steps to a Successful Re-Engagement Campaign

Reactivating lapsed donors using a one-size-fits-all re-engagement strategy is destined to fail. People pause or stop their giving for lots of different reasons, some you can influence, some you can’t, so it’s important to tailor your campaigns to the various segments in your donor database. 

Given that we know that donors who have given twice are more likely to give a third time, start by focussing on inactive donors who have made more than one past gift to your organization. This group alone may be a secret windfall waiting to happen. Then follow these steps to learn how to re-engage lapsed donors.

1. Make Sure Your Donor Journey Map Is Rock Solid

We know that you’re already an expert at mapping the donor journey. But just in case you need a refresher, pop over to this post to get down and dirty with donor journeys.

The key to using donor journey maps to inform your re-engagement campaigns is segmentation. If you have a segment that shows half the donors dropping off at a certain point, your segment might be too broad.  Break your groups down until you can see clear delineations between segments that let you draw conclusions about why they stopped giving or only giving intermittently. There is a big difference between LYBUNTs who made it part way through the journey and LYBUNTs who never even started it.

2. Dive Deep Into Your Database

Once you have identified which of your donors are most likely to give again, pull up every little bit of data you can find on them, especially:

  • Gift amount
  • Donation frequency
  • In which month do they give most often?
  • Which campaigns or programs did they support? 
  • Demographic information like age, location, etc.

Comparing various data points, can you make any assumptions about why they didn’t make a contribution? Try to think laterally: A SYBUNT who gives $100 one year in February, nothing the next, then $100 in October, then $100 in March, then nothing again may just be forgetful and need more touches from your marketing plan

However, an LYBUNT who gave $100, then $50, then nothing, who happens to live in an economically depressed part of the country, may be suffering financial hardship and is simply unable to contribute right now, regardless of what kind of program you offer, so it may be a good time to send a newsletter that doesn’t ask for a donation.

3. Personalize Your Communications

Once you have a pretty good idea why a segment of donors has become inactive, you can work to fix it with a win-back campaign. Tailor your communications to specifically counteract whatever went wrong in the first place: forgetful donors need more reminders; fatigued donors need fewer asks; less affluent donors need to know that small donations are just as important as large ones; the list goes on.

Above all, when reaching out to lapsed donors, be very conscious of the language you use. Try not to refer to their lack of recent giving, since many donors may still think of themselves as loyal supporters and you do not want to offend anyone or seem greedy. And be sure to thank them for their past support, even if it has been a long time since they gave.

4. Don’t Just Ask for Money 

Engagement isn’t just asking for money once a year. Your goal should be to build a real relationship with your donors that lasts. So make sure at least some of your communications, especially on social media, don’t contain an ask for donations. Luckily, there are all kinds of content that you can put out that will keep your audience informed about the positive impact you’re making, and hopefully, thinking about donating.

Types of content to try sending:

  • Impactful storytelling
  • Show what your organization is up to and where donation dollars are going
  • Show behind-the-scenes content for a look at the people behind the organization
  • Present new options for supporting your cause, like small monthly donations or volunteering
  • Ask questions on social media
  • Send surveys that help you learn more about them, and don’t forget to give them the option to say why they lapsed

5. Run an A/B Test

Just when you thought you could stop thinking about data, guess again! Running A/B tests on your communications strategy is a valuable way to add data points and assess how your re-engagement efforts are working. Here’s how it works:

  • Start by choosing a date range that will classify a donor as lapsed.
  • Pull your list of donors who gave last year but not in your new range.
  • Divide this list into an active group and a control group.
  • Send the active group your campaign.
  • Next year, compare your renewed donors. If the retention rate in the active group is more than in the control group, you can consider the campaign a success. Go ahead and try it with the control group. 
  • Make sure you keep measuring and comparing the results of the two groups while you iterate year-over-year to find the best results.

Using Keela to Identify Lapsed Donors

Whether you’ve been using it since the beginning or are just getting started, Keela is the most intelligent way to manage your donor database. With smart tools and an intuitive interface, you can quickly gain a comprehensive overview of your supporters by running reports for lapsed donors.

Keela also uses contact insights (badges) to help you understand your contacts at a glance. With powerful tools like these, you’ll be reactivating lapsed donors in no time.

See How Nonprofits Use Keela to Raise 4x More!

Get a glimpse of how Keela’s donor management system can help you develop better relationships, retain donors and raise more for your cause.