Efforts to reactivate former donors should be part of every healthy fundraising program. Past supporters are so valuable – they know at least something about us, they have given in the past, and they clearly care about our mission. But for some reason, they stopped giving.

If we’re serious about reactivating former donors, we also have to be serious about retaining them once they give again. That means doing the same things we’d do for new donors (click here to read last week’s post on that topic) — but it also means trying to understand what made them lapse in the first place.

To gain that understanding, in a perfect world we would contact each one and ask, “Why did you stop giving?” We would use this information to make changes so future donors would not run into the same roadblocks to future giving. But of course, that’s impossible.

But that isn’t an excuse for doing nothing except occasionally including lapsed donors in our acquisition direct mail appeals and even email.

One of the best ways to find out this information is to ask! This can be via a survey that you offer both online and offline, requesting the donor to “provide valuable information so we can do a better job in the future communicating with people like you about the work we do.” Some helpful questions include asking why they gave in the first place; why they stopped giving; what opportunities for giving (e.g., projects they could support) did they find more appealing; and which communications were the most valuable to them.

What can you expect from a survey like this? First of all, some people will reactivate their giving. They didn’t actually stop giving; they just forgot it had been so long. You may find out that some of your organization’s favorite communications just aren’t resonating with your audience. And, you may get useful insight on what kinds of offers appeal most to donors so you can focus both your acquisition and your cultivation on those topics.

Why bother? Because even if you manage to reactivate a former donor, if you haven’t changed anything, there is a good likelihood that they will simply lapse again. But on the other hand, when we are asked to give our “valuable input” and it actually seems to make a difference, we feel a stronger sense of connection. We feel more like an “owner” in the cause instead of an outside looking in.

If you truly care about reactivating your former donors and turning them into donors that stick, ask. But don’t be surprised if you find out you need to change some of your communications to them. After all, when you want different results, you have to try something different.