Lapsed Donor Reactivation And Recovery: Continue Writing Those Direct Mail Donation Letters.

When is the best time to stop sending direct mail donation appeal letters to your lapsed donors?


Dropping lapsed donors and members from your mailings is rarely cost-effective. Sending them all of your regular mailings is not cost-effective either, of course, and I'm not saying that you should. But lapsed donors should receive something from your organization each year.

Maybe a year-end appeal. Maybe a simple renewal mailing. But you should send them something. Here's why.

Lapsed donors are better prospects for gifts than complete strangers are. Mailing to them will almost certainly generate better response rates and higher net revenue than mailing to cold lists. So you should never drop lapsed donors and members from your mailings altogether. Instead, keep mailing to them until your response rate and average gift drops below what you would receive by mailing to cold names.

Direct mail fundraising consultant and author Mal Warwick recommends mailing to a lapsed list until your results in response rate and average gift are 20% worse than they would be with a cold list, since recovered lapsed donors can be expected to perform at least 20% better than people off a cold list.

Think of your lapsed donors as numbers

One secret to recovering your lapsed donors is to stop thinking of them as individuals and to start thinking of them as numbers. That runs contrary to conventional fundraising letter wisdom, I know. But hear me out.

You should think of your current donors as individuals and never as a list, and think of your lapsed donors as a list and never as individuals. After all, if you treat current donors as a list, they will drop you before they should. They want to be treated as individuals. But if you treat lapsed donors as individuals, you will drop them before you should, because you will view them as unprofitable individuals instead of as part of a profitable list.

Remember this: Repeated mailings to reactivate lapsed donors will pay off if done properly. The secret is to continue mailing to them as a group (with lapsed donor recovery letters or donor acquisition letters) until your results drop below what you'd achieve (in response rate and average gift) by mailing to cold prospects.

© 2006 Sharpe Copy Inc. You may reprint this article online and in print provided the links remain live and the content remains unaltered (including the "About the Author" message).


Alan Sharpe is a professional fundraising letter writer, instructor, coach, author and newsletter publisher who helps non-profit organizations to raise funds, build relationships and retain loyal donors using cost-effective, compelling, creative fundraising letters. Sign up for free weekly tips like this at