LYBNTS (pronounced lie-bunts) and SYBNTS (pronounced sigh-bunts) are not characters from an episode of Dr. Who nor are they arcane baseball terms, but they are acronyms of potential gold for your annual fund.
LYBNTS are people who gave Last Year But Not This. SYBNTS are people who gave Some Year But Not This. At some point, these people cared enough about your mission to support it financially and, with careful cultivation, they may care enough to give again.
So, how do you re-engage them?
It all starts with your donor management software and mining the donor information and contribution history from the donor database.
- Using a robust, well-maintained donor management system makes it is easy to get started finding and re-engaging lapsed donors. First, run a report on donors who have given in the last three to five years, but haven’t given yet this year. Typically, people, who have given in the previous three years are easiest to re-engage - a point to consider when deciding how to spend your time and resources. The longer they have gone without giving, the less likely they are to give again. When running the report include, at a minimum, the fields for donor name, dates of donation(s), the amount given, and campaign/fund/event names in your report. Sort the donors in the report by the total amount given. Turn your attention first to the largest, most recent donors. Since studies show that 80% of giving tends to come from 20% of your donors, when time is short, investing it in potential larger donors is a smart choice.
- Research your donors. Look at the campaign, solicitation or event that resulted in the contribution. Did they give when the appeal was about an alum or was it scholarships that caught their eye? A large donor may have spent a lot of money at a fundraising auction, but their commitment to your mission may not be as great the total given implies. They may just enjoy a good event or wanted that week at the beach donated for the auction. (Still information you can build on.) Are their gifts always in December? Is the end of the school year their trigger? The answers to these questions are clues to how to approach this person. If the school’s donor management system is not up to date, talk to your team. Teachers, staff, board, and long-time volunteers may know this person and have an idea what is important to them. Did they love the high school science program, attend every volleyball game, or decorate for each event? Someone may have noticed. This information will help you with the next step.
- Make personal contact. Now is when you are glad you gathered contact information with emails and phone numbers at events, programs, and on reply cards. Pat yourself on the back for taking the time to update the donor records in your donor management system as you became aware of changes. If you were not consistent in your database updates all is not lost. You can search online for addresses, phone numbers or emails. It is more time consuming, but worthwhile.
Begin your LYBNT and SYBNT donor appeal by sending a handwritten note to the top lapsed donors. Tell them you appreciate their past support, and you want to catch them up on all the good they, and people like them, have done. Let them know you will be calling or emailing. A call is most personal, but if you call and have to leave a message, the next contact attempt should be via email. When you get in touch, thank them again for past support. Tell them two or three good things that have happened at your school because of support like theirs. This where that research into their interests will help you gain their support again. Then listen to them. Listen. Listen! Let them tell you what matters to them, why they gave in the past – and maybe why they stopped. Then see if you can set up an in-person meeting.
Face-to-face meetings are when you can gather the most information about what drew them to support your school, why they gave, and if they would like to be involved again. You may hear that they went to an event to please a friend, and have no real interest in your school. That is valuable information. You can still share information if they have any interest, but your time is probably more productively spent elsewhere. They may be mad or disappointed about something. It may be something you can help straighten out. Sometimes there is a misconception. Then you may be able to clear it up. There may be something you need to apologize for or change. Do it. That may be a powerful act. It is time for the next step.
- Give lapsed donors an opportunity to be involved. Invite them to a program, a concert, a ballgame or other school event. At the event make a point to welcome them personally and introduce them to school ambassadors nearby. Ask if they are willing to take an online survey. Then share the findings of the survey and share actions planned based on the survey. Invite them to join a committee or share a talent or life experience with a class. Ask for advice. You may ask for advice on anything from governance to decorations for an event.
- Stay in touch. Every six to eight weeks, share an update on an area that interests that donor. Share an article they might find interesting. Remember their birthday. Send a birthday card or a valentine from the school.
- Segment communications. Target the audience for your communications by specific groups that may have a common link in supporting your mission. Make the appeals personalized based on the group. A letter to grandparents may include a statement about the important role grandparents play in a child's education. A letter to alums may mention time-honored traditions at the school the alums may remember. A letter to people who care about your mission, but don’t have a personal connection to the school, may mention the value of their support in improving the educational opportunities of children in the community.
- Thank the donor. Then thank them again. If a gift is large, call as soon as it comes in to say thank you. Write a handwritten note. Have the head of school say thank you. Have a board member express appreciation. Most compelling of all is a thank you from a student. The student would not share their last name or their address, but the thank you can come from Sam, an 8th grader, with the school’s address as the return.
- Give donors the opportunity to opt out. Do this on each email and even each letter. Research has shown that even if donors opt out of the newsletter, they may still give. They like being in charge of incoming communication and feel heard and valued when you let them decide what communications they will receive.
- Keep your donor data updated. It is time well spent. Record solicitations, contacts, interests, and current contact information in your donor management software in a consistent, timely fashion. The more you know, the deeper the relationship can become, and that benefits the school – and the donor.
- It is okay to say goodbye. Clean up your database. If someone has been properly cultivated and hasn’t given in five years, you may want to save time and money and let them rest in the file of past donors. If they have not given in seven years or more, you may be ready to save them to a thumb drive and clean them out of your current files. Say goodbye to old friends, so you have time to cultivate new ones.
About the Author: Lari has served as a Director of Development, Director of Marketing and Communications, and Director of Admissions and Alumni Relations. She has been a one-person office and managed large staffs. She is currently a nonprofit consultant with clients across the nation.
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