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8 Tips to Re-Engage Lapsed Donors Through Email

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By Korrin Bishop

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Published March 10, 2021
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Acquiring and retaining new donors requires effective marketing, staff time building the relationship, and continued stewardship. Individual donors are critical for nonprofits’ operations, yet greater than 75% end up giving a gift just once.

With the investment you put into attracting new donors, it’s worth taking time to analyze which of your donors have lapsed in their activities and email engagement with your nonprofit and establish a re-engagement plan. In this post, we’ll cover how you can define an unengaged or lapsed donor group and tips for encouraging them to invest in your mission again.

1. Establish a Definition for an Unengaged or Lapsed Donor

You need to know which donors fall into your “unengaged” or lapsed category in order to set up an effective targeting strategy. Defining and grouping these supporters into their own segment will allow you to send email campaigns specifically to them.

There are a variety of filters you can choose to identify this group. Some common characteristics could include donors who:

  • Haven’t opened one of your emails in greater than 120 days
  • Haven’t made a donation to your nonprofit in more than 365 days
  • Hasn’t attended one of your events in over a year
  • Stopped volunteering regularly for greater than 90 days

Once you create your “unengaged” or “lapsed donor” segment, you can begin your outreach. Have a process in place to move donors out of this segment and back into your engaged segment, as needed. Depending on your email marketing software and other tools, you can likely automate that process based on if donors open or click links within your emails.

2. Use a Creative, Mobile-Friendly Subject Line

Standard email best practices apply to re-engagement emails, as well. This includes having a succinct, appealing subject line. To ensure your subject line doesn’t get cut off for donors viewing your message on a mobile device, keep its length to around 30 characters.

Grab your supporters’ attention by using words that create a sense of urgency, make the email appear personal, or catch the reader’s eye by contrasting text with numbers. If it fits with your brand’s voice and tone, think of the subject line as a cheeky conversation with an old friend you haven’t heard from in a while.

Some examples of subject lines for personalized re-engagement emails could include:

  • Jane, we miss you! Just checking in.
  • Hey, Alexis! Let’s reconnect today.
  • It’s been 90 days, Ted, but who’s counting? (It’s us.)
  • Hello out there! Is this thing on?
  • Sara, make sure not to miss these 3 big updates!

3. A/B Test Your Re-Engagement Email Campaigns

Following industry standards is a great place to start with your re-engagement campaigns. For example, more emails are opened during the weekday than on weekends, with Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday having the highest open rates. However, as with other emails you send to your supporters, you can use A/B testing to see if different approaches garner greater engagement. 

With this method, you send two versions of your campaign to sample subsets of your target email segment, with just one element being different. This might be the send time, subject line, promotional offer, or other variable. After running your test, review the open rate, click through rate, and other engagement measures for each. Whichever has a higher rate of engagement is the one you’ll send to your full list.

Investing some time into A/B testing your re-engagement email campaigns can help your nonprofit better understand your unengaged donors and the communication approaches to which they’re more likely to respond.

4. Make a Personal Ask for Donor Feedback

Your re-engagement emails should include a message personally addressed to the lapsed donor mentioning that you haven’t heard from them in a while, so you wanted to check in. This greeting shows them that you’ve noticed their absence and care about them. 

Take that personalization a step further by making an ask for feedback. This shows that you also care about their involvement with your nonprofit. You can include a link to a short survey or have your supporters reply directly to your email to collect responses on how they like to engage with your nonprofit, their preference for email frequency, and how you can do better in your communications with them. 

In general, people want to help, but they don’t always know how they can if you don’t ask them. 

5. Focus on Impactful Storytelling

Supporters likely came to your nonprofit in the first place because they believe in your mission. Storytelling is a key tool for reminding your unengaged donors about the impact you’re making toward that mission thanks to people like them. Ensure your re-engagement emails elevate the story of your nonprofit. 

Share how your work impacted a particular person who received your services. This provides a relatable main character to your story, as well as an emotional tie. You can also tell your story by highlighting powerful data that show the full extent of the problem you’re addressing, as well as how much progress you’ve made toward solving that issue.

With storytelling, you’re not just asking unengaged donors to re-engage; rather, you’re showing them why they should.

6. Incentivize Donor Engagement

When trying to stand out in a crowded inbox, it can help to occasionally add an incentive to your email to further encourage engagement. As part of your re-engagement email, consider including something extra for the supporter in exchange for their attention.

For example, if the lapsed donor fills out your survey on how they like to best engage with your nonprofit, let them know you’ll be sending them some free branded swag from your nonprofit. You could also run a time-limited raffle to win a ticket to your next event or a free registration for your next race, letting your unengaged donor know that you’d love to see them again soon.

Another way to incentivize your unengaged donors is by highlighting a matching gift campaign. Let them know that if they donate again now, their gift could be doubled by a matching gift. This encourages re-engagement because your supporters see how they can make an even bigger impact.

7. Send an “Anniversary” Email

If it has been a year since your lapsed supporter last donated, send an email reminding them of the gift they gave and what it has since helped your nonprofit achieve. You can include a donation button in your email suggesting they donate that same amount again, or even commit to a recurring gift to continue making a lasting impact on the population you serve.

If you have an unengaged supporter who ran a peer-to-peer campaign last year for their birthday, you can also send them an anniversary email in advance of their birthday to wish them a happy celebration this year. This serves as both a meaningful personal connection that demonstrates how your nonprofit values them, as well as a nudge to consider fundraising for their birthday again this year. Send your email a few weeks in advance of their actual birthday so they have enough time to set up their campaign page and fundraise effectively for their big day.

8. Provide Multiple Options for Giving

When encouraging unengaged donors to give again, it can be helpful to show them the many different ways they can support your nonprofit. Doing this allows them to engage in the capacity that is best for them right now.

Some of the giving options you may want to highlight in your emails include:

Another key giving option to highlight is signing up to become a recurring donor. By selecting an automatic monthly gift, your supporters can commit to any size donation and be able to continue supporting your mission on a regular basis without having to think about it. 

You can even run an entire email campaign specifically targeted at turning lapsed donors into recurring donors by leaning into the messaging of this being an easy, automatic giving option for busy supporters who may otherwise forget to check-in often enough to donate. 

Engage Your Unengaged Donors Using a Personal Touch and Impactful Storytelling

If some of your donors haven’t engaged with your nonprofit in a while, not all hope is lost. Re-engage these lapsed donors with emails that include impactful storytelling, personal touches, and giving options that meet them where they are.


Hear all about what incentivizes the modern donor at the Collaborative: Virtual Sessions.

13 Donor Retention Email Templates

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Increase donations for your nonprofit and make tax season a breeze.

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