Writing a Lapsed Donor Letter in Just 5 Simple Steps (with Examples)


There is no nonprofit that is immune from lapsed donors. These are individuals who have donated to your organization in the past, but have stopped giving for any number of reasons. While this attrition can be expected, losing these donations can impact your nonprofit’s mission and the issue needs to be addressed. It is important to find out why a donor has stopped giving so that you can rectify what caused the turnover, as well as thank and welcome back a former donor. 

This is a job for a specific type of donation letter known as a lapsed donor letter. This kind of outreach can help ensure that your organization keeps the donor rolls high, and continues to fund your cause effectively. In this guide, we share how to identify and categorize your lapsed donors, take you through the steps of writing a perfect lapsed donor letter, and offer examples of effective lapsed donor communications. We hope you find this information helpful!

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How to Identify Your Lapsed Donors

When planning any direct mail campaign, you want to first identify just who the letters are going to. What constitutes a lapsed donor is completely up to your own organization. Most nonprofits start by running a year over year report using nonprofit CRM to determine which supporters gave last year, but not this year

lapsed-donor-letter-examples-how-to-identifyLouis is ready to start identifying lapsed donors!

Use segmentation to identify different types of lapsed donors so that you can write letters that are relevant to each type. For example, some donors may have missed a yearly donation, some may have stopped giving monthly, and still others may have been missing in action for several years. You can send a quarterly survey to lapsed donors to find out why they stopped giving, and this information can also be added to the database for future use. 

Pro Tip: You may be able to weed out some of these lapsed donors with a quick phone call. A surprising number of people who have "stopped" their recurring donations have simply changed credit cards and have forgotten to update your organization with the new number or expiration date. 


Steps to Creating a Perfect Lapsed Donor Letter

There are some best practices to follow when writing a lapsed donor letter. This is an important communication that should not be jotted off-hand, but carefully crafted to address certain criteria. Here are five steps to follow when drafting your letter. 

Step One: Personalize Your Letter To Each Donor

When writing to your supporters, it is imperative to make them feel seen and appreciated. Canned phrases, corporate-speak, and jargon have no place in any donor letter, whether it is a fundraising appeal letter, thank you letter for donation, or a lapsed donor letter. 

CRM comes in handy for these situations. Pull as much information as you can regarding each person’s donation history. The more you can share about your history with this supporter, the better chance you have of winning them back. Here are some examples of data you can use:

  • Any specific campaigns they may have supported previously

  • How long they have been giving to the organization (including the date of their first gift)

  • How long they have been gone (including the date of their last gift)

  • What connection they have to your mission. For example, do they have family members that have benefited from your nonprofit’s research or services? Are they employed in the field you serve?

  • Reason for not currently donating. You may or may not know what this reason is, but if you do know, acknowledge it. 

Depending on the size of your database, you may decide to use merge fields to fill in specific details of your letter. However, if you do not have a huge amount of lapsed donors to write to,  you may choose to simply personalize individual letters. When you get to mid-level or major donors, you will want to consider writing individual letters as well. 

Step Two: Let Your Donor Know You Miss Them 

People who volunteer or give to an organization want to feel like they are partnered in a cause. No matter how much passion they may feel for your mission, donors also want to feel valued and appreciated. 

If an individual gave a financial gift for your last big campaign and never received a thank you letter or email, how motivated do you think they will be to give again? When someone has not been acknowledged, they may well think "I guess my donation did not really matter." This can also happen in our earlier scenario of a donor whose credit card card number changed and has not been updated. If they do not hear from you immediately, it is easy to think that the organization simply did not notice, and therefore does not really need their donation. 

To bring a lapsed donor back into the fold, you must create a feeling of how much you rely on their donations to fund the cause, and that your work is dependent on their support. Use storytelling to share a specific case that benefits from their gift. 

If you are dealing with a lapsed donor who has stopped giving for a specific reason, a personal phone call may be the better option. This way you can get feedback, discuss solutions, and reassure them of their significance to the organization. 

Step Three: Use the Donor’s Preferred Method of Communication

You could write the most eloquent, impassioned, and inspirational letter in the world, but in the end it will not matter one bit if the person it is meant for never receives it. While this is not true across the board, there are some older donors who do not really check email or who delete anything that does not come from specific contacts they know. And some younger people toss any paper communication that is not a bill. 

Ensure that your appeal reaches your reader by taking a moment to run a report on the donors’ preferred communication methods. This also shows that you care enough to reach out in a way that is relevant to them. 

Step Four: Add Specifics 

We touched on this a bit in the personalization step, but let’s take it a step further. Use your knowledge of prior donations to specific campaigns to highlight how your reader has helped in the past, and how they can continue to help in the future. Find similar campaigns to share, and emphasize that they are needed to make a difference. 

Sam is writing up his lapsed donor letter right now!

Get as personal as possible. For example, if your organization feeds children you can share the story of a child that the donor has helped in the past, and follow this with the story of a child currently in need. Storytelling with details and pictures can motivate a lapsed donor to restart their giving. 

Step Five: Invite Them Back With a Clear Donation Appeal

Finally, you want your reader to feel ready to take action. This should be done with a strong appeal that leaves no question of the next step to take. Make giving a gift that follows 501c3 donation rules as easy as possible. If you are writing an email, this means including a call-to-action button like "Donate Now" or "Partner With Us". 

Make it very clear what and whom their gift is supporting. Make sure you mention a specific need or particular campaign. Ask for a specific donation gift that they can simply click on, or easily send through a pre-paid envelope. 

Pro Tip: If a donor left under less than ideal circumstances, it may take some time to warm them up to financial donations again. In this case you simply want to get them engaged again, so you can ask them to support your organization in non-financial ways. Ask them to share a campaign on social media or invite them to your next event. More interactions can increase your chances of winning them back completely. 


Lapsed Donor Letter Examples

By following the steps outlined, you should have no problem drafting a lapsed donor letter. But to take out the guesswork and make life a bit easier, we will share a couple of examples that you can use to form your own letter. 

Example 1

Dear (First Name),

We wanted to take a moment to thank you for all of the support that you have given us over the past (specific # of) years. Thanks to your generosity, we have been able to (brief description or bullet point list of your organization’s work). 

When you gave your gift of (amount of last gift) on (last gift date), you helped us to (describe specific impact in a brief paragraph - remember the storytelling and include a picture if possible).

(Nonprofit mission) still needs your help! You have been our partner in (area of support or interest) before, and we knew you would want to know about (share current need and campaign goals to address this need). 

Would you be our partner again in (nonprofit mission) by sharing a gift of (specific gift amount, based on history)? With your help, we can (add specifics about what this gift will be used for, and tie it back to the mission). 

(Add Donate Now button that links directly to payment processor and return donation receipt)

Thank you so much for your help over the years, and we hope that you will consider becoming a part of our community again. If there is anything you would like to discuss, feel free to contact us at (give at least two contact options). 


(Name of Nonprofit Representative) 

(Name of Organization)

(Contact info)

Example 2

Dear (First Name), 

We have missed you here at (organization name)! It has been (number of months) since we have heard from you, and we wanted to let you know how important you have been to our mission over the past (specific number) of years. 

When you gave (amount of donation) to our (campaign) on (date), you were essential to helping (add details of campaign and how the donations helped). 

We still need your help, and would be ecstatic if you would partner with us again in (nonprofit mission). With a gift of (amount based on past giving) we can (add specific details of campaign mission). 

(Add Give Now button)

We would also like to invite you to get involved with (next event). This event will (specific goals of campaign), and you can help by (add details of how they can volunteer or attend event, plus date and time). You can also share (name of event) on social media so we can get the word out about (nonprofit mission)!

Thank you so much for being a part of our community these past (specific number) years! You have made such a difference in (share how they have helped, and who they have helped with donations). We appreciate your support so much. 


(Name of Nonprofit Organization)

(Name of Nonprofit)

(Contact Info)

If you are looking for help on drafting other nonprofit letters you can find some tips and templates:

Pro Tip: You will find that in these samples, much like in any donation request, there are a lot of personalized details to enhance the efficacy of the letter. If you do not already have CRM software, trusted database platforms like Springly can help streamline and simplify your campaigns with automated info and easy search and segmentation features. 


Final Thoughts

A nonprofit organization cannot afford to allow attrition of members to go unaddressed. While it is a common and unavoidable issue, well-drafted lapsed donor letters can help stem the flow and keep those precious donation dollars funding your mission. 

A quality CRM software can aid the process with easy-to-access and detailed information that helps your letter speak directly to the donor. By utilizing this tool and following the tips and strategies provided here, you can help keep your donors engaged and working with your mission for years to come! 

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💡How do you communicate with lapsed donors?

There are several ways you can communicate with lapsed donors. For immediate issues, or if dealing with major donors, a phone call can be the best way. Emails and letters by post can also be extremely effective, but be sure that you are using your lapsed donor’s preferred method of communication to ensure that they receive the message. Find out more. 

🔑 How do you define a lapsed donor?

A lapsed donor is simply defined as a donor who used to give to a nonprofit, but no longer does. The specifics are entirely up to the organization itself. If someone is a monthly recurring donor, nonpayment over a month or two can be considered lapsed. However, many organizations use the parameter of year over year giving to identify lapsed donors. Find out more. 

📝 How do you asked a donor why they stopped giving?

A phone call is the most immediate and personal way to ask for feedback. You can also take that time to help come up with solutions for potential problems. You may also choose to send out a survey to your lapsed members to give them the opportunity to share their reasons. This can be helpful to those who don’t feel comfortable sharing with a live person. Find out more.  

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