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How long since you gave?

Are my donors and I moving through time at the same pace?  

Probably not. 

  • If a donor gives only twice a year, I may imagine her saying to herself, “Hmph! I’m only giving to those people twice a year!”  
  • But in reality, that donor sees herself as intensely loyal to the ministry — “I support that ministry,” she’d say if the subject came up in conversation with a neighbor — and has no idea that she’s only giving twice a year. 

A friend who works in marketing was deeply devoted to a certain ministry, passionate about its cause… 

“Of course, I support the ministry financially,” he would say. “I get their appeals just like any other donor, and I respond faithfully. Generously. Almost every time. Well, most of the time. Actually, I guess, sometimes I throw them away, but … But hey, I love that ministry!” 

But then the ministry sent an appeal designed to gently nudge donors who had failed to give for 12 months in a row, and this friend received it.  

He was shocked. 

“I shuddered as I read the gentle, almost apologetic words: ‘If our records are correct, we haven’t had the privilege of your financial support for more than a year now … and we really do need your help. If we’ve done anything to offend you, I sure want to hear from you, so I can make it right…’ I couldn’t believe it!” 

What had happened?  

As much as he loved that cause, and as much as his heart supported that ministry, he had managed to go an entire year without giving.  

As each appeal arrived, he had been either too busy, or too broke, or too distracted — or he had set it aside, telling himself he’d make a donation “tomorrow” — or whatever. 

  • The ministry’s point of view? He had gone a year without giving a gift. 
  • The donor’s point of view? I’m a loyal and devoted supporter of the ministry! 

Donors don’t track time the way ministry personnel do.  

A donor can give once in 18 months and still think of herself as a good and loyal supporter. 

  • In fact, our research shows that a donor typically imagines the time since her most recent gift to be half as long as it really was. 

What does this tell us? 

It tells us, among other things, not to write off lapsed donors.  

The BBS & Associates testing of “renewal” packages sent to lapsed donors demonstrates clearly that lapsed donors have extremely high potential to become active donors! 

Some ministry marketers are reluctant to remind a lapsed donor of her lapse. But such a reminder can be delivered with great care and love, completely in keeping with the character of the ministry. 

  • An inquiry into the donor’s needs (“Perhaps you’ve been facing some difficulties I’m not aware of”) or an acknowledgment of the donor’s priorities and prerogatives (“I know how easy it is to get busy with other things”) can actually connect the ministry leader and the donor, rather than separate them. 
  • We encourage ministries to write to lapsed donors and ask them to share their needs so that the ministry staff can support them in prayer — regardless of whether the donor is able to give again or not. 
  • We also suggest testing various strategies for communicating with donors who have lapsed for as little as 3 months — and again at 6, 12, 18, possibly even 24 months or later. 

Of course, it is possible to carry this approach to the opposite extreme and never move lapsed donors out of the ministry mailstream. 

It is disturbing to contemplate the enormous waste of financial resources reflected in a marketing strategy that sends the same appeal letter to both an active donor and to someone who hasn’t been a donor for four years. 

  • The donor’s self-defined status as a member of the ministry family must be acknowledged in the language of the appeal — or the ministry accidentally reinforces the idea that it’s actually just a big fundraising machine. 

This same principle suggests that we should salute donors on the anniversary of their partnership with us.  

Even the simplest donor management software enables you to write to me and say, “Chuck, you’ve been a part of this ministry since 2017, and I’m grateful.” This kind of affirmation deepens my affection for the ministry … and makes me want to do more! 

We’ve been studying lapsed donors — and bringing them back — for nearly 40 years. We’ll be happy to share what we’ve learned! Contact BBS & Associates today.