Do You Recognize the 4 Early Warning Signs of Donor Withdrawal?

by Joe Garecht

The Fundraising Warning Signs

We’ve all been there…

There’s a donor that is extremely interested in your work.  He or she gives regularly – at almost every opportunity – and is one of your organization’s biggest boosters.  This donor invites friends along to events, makes a major gift commitment, and posts appeals for your organization on Facebook.  In short, he/she is a dream donor.

Until everything comes crashing down.  You suddenly realize you haven’t heard from the donor in 6 months, and haven’t gotten a gift in almost a year.  You look on social media, and the donor has stopped talking about your organization.  You call, and never get a call back.  Your once dream donors has become… (yikes!) a lapsed donor.

It’s painful, but true: even the best donors occasionally withdraw from organizations they support.  The excitement wears off, and so does their involvement with your non-profit.  But what if there was a way that you could head off donor withdrawal?  What if there way you could nip disinterest in the bud, before it blossomed into boredom and donor fatigue?  Luckily, there is.

First, let’s look at the four early warning signs that the excitement is wearing off and your donor is getting ready to withdraw.  Then, we’ll look four ways to can bring that donor back into the fold, before they leave for good…

#1 – Meetings / Calls Get Shorter

Shorter meetings and calls are a key warning sign that your donor is growing disinterested with your organization.  Meetings that used to go on for an hour are dwindling down to twenty minutes.  Marathon phone calls where the donor excitedly asked about your work are now perfunctory ten minute “check-in” calls.  The donor is still taking your calls and meeting with you out of a sense of obligation, but their heart is no longer in it.

#2 – The Donor Stops Reposting / Forwarding / Replying

If a donor that normally reposts or likes everything you post on social media stops doing so… or a supporter who often replies to your updates stops, you may have a problem.  Likewise, if you have a donor who often forwards your e-mail newsletters to friends and colleagues but no longer does so, it’s a warning sign.  Donors who stop social media activity and e-mail forwarding of your newsletters are showing you that they are becoming bored or disinterested in your communications and work.

#3 – The Donor RSVPs for Events but Fails to Show Up

This is a big warning sign, particularly for mid-level donors.  If you have a donor who used to attend your fundraising events but who starts RSVPing for the events and not coming, it’s a major clue that the donor is losing interest.  The donor is still replying “yes” to your events out of a sense of obligation, but when the time comes to put on a tie and drive to the event, the motivation to attend just isn’t there.   The donor will probably stop RSVPing at all very, very soon.

#4 – Missing a Regular Gift

This end-stage warning sign set off the alarms in your development office.  If a donor has been slowly pulling away but was still making regular gifts to your events, appeals, and annual campaigns, but missed a regular gift (one that they normally make every year), you’ll need to take drastic action to avoid permanently losing this donor.

How to Bring Your Donor Back Into the Fold

Ok… you’ve been vigilant, watching the warning signs listed above, and have noticed one or more of the signs cropping up in a group of donors.  How can you bring those donors back into the fold and get them re-energized and re-engaged with your non-profit?  Here are four simple ways:

ThanksDonorsRecognize and Reconnect

One great way to bring soon-to-be lapsed donors back into the funnel is by making a special effort to recognize their past support in a way that reconnects the donor with your mission and vision.

For larger donors, this might mean things like offering them a lifetime donor achievement award at your next gala, or naming one of your programs in their honor.  For smaller donors, you may want to stop by their office with a client that your organization has helped (if appropriate) to allow the person to thank the donor for their support.

Or, you could do short, 3 minute thank you videos from your office where you and a board member personally thank the donor (by name) and show them some of the good work you have accomplished through their donations.

Build the Relationship Outside of Fundraising

For some donors, it may be appropriate for your staff to reconnect with them through one-on-one experiences that don’t revolve around fundraising.  For example, you could invite several withdrawing donors to a football game in your board chairman’s VIP suite… or maybe you can get a donor who is an avid arts fan tickets to a sold-out exhibition for herself and a friend.

This type of relationship-building won’t always be possible or appropriate, but can be a good way to show your donor that he or she means more to you than just a donation every few months.

Provide Volunteer Opportunities

This strategy can be used with nearly every lapsing donor, no matter how large or small their average gift.

Your donor got involved with your organization in the first place because they believed in your work.  One of the main reasons why donors withdraw is because, over time, they become less passionate about your programs and less emotionally connected with your organization.  The best way to get them reconnected is to put them to work on the front lines.

Spend some time personally calling lapsing donors to ask them to come volunteer for a few hours (perhaps with a board member or other staff member) to help you serve more people and to see all the good work that they are doing, through your organization.

Have an Honest Conversation

When all else fails, it is often beneficial to have an honest conversation with your withdrawing donors to see if you can get them reengaged with your work.  Tell the donor that you have noticed that they are less involved that they used to be, and ask them (in a non-argumentative way) if anything has changed and/or why they are less involved.

Many donors will tell you that they just don’t have the time (or money) that they used to or that they are focusing on new philanthropic endeavors.  Some donors, though, may bring up things you can address, such as misconceptions about your work, or a feeling of not being heard or taken for granted by your non-profit.  If the donor gives you a reason for their withdrawal that you can easily and ethically address, the conversation will have been well worth it.


Photo Credits: Jason EppinkSteven Depolo

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