Why didn’t he give this year?

In response to a question posed about best practices for donor reclamation, I did not address appeal methodologies.  Instead, I addressed a common fundraiser response I see all the time. Sometimes fundraisers hesitate to contact a lybunt/sybunt personally to ask for a gift renewal — we wonder if the past donor is no longer interested in our mission, or is not satisfied with something, or doesn’t want to be contacted.  We use appeal methods that do not best match our intention, like direct mail or e-mail, methods that make it harder for donors to engage in an active dialogue about reasons for giving, or for not giving again.

It’s a big step to approach a lapsed donor with a clear perspective; it is very easy and natural to apply our own values to others’ actions. Is he not renewing his support because we addressed his envelope incorrectly, didn’t plan to include more racquetball courts in the new athletic facility, doesn’t like the organization’s alignment with a political initiative, etc., etc.? My advice is: Do not presume that the donor lapsed because of something your organization did or didn’t do. When it’s all said and done, very few of us have the psychic abilities needed to guess why he didn’t give.  Many donors lapse for reasons we might never know, like big purchases, lifestyle and work changes, and new priorities in their giving plans.

In my experience, nothing beats an in-person meeting for re-engaging a lapsed donor and further understanding donor motivation. My advice is to revel in the opportunity to ask ‘will you renew? why or why not?’  It is a chance to ask direct questions and get answers you can use to create the case statement that will help the donor, and other lapsed donors by extension, make a renewed commitment. If you can’t meet in person, try personal phone and personal mail — your response should reflect your ability to handle the scale and cost of the recapture program.

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