Is It Okay to Delete Inactive Donors From Your Database to Keep Costs Down?

Nope, not really.

But I get it; this is tough.

Aside from instances when a constituent notifies you that they are stopping their support and no longer want to hear from you, it can be very difficult to decide when to cut an inactive constituent loose or when to hold on to them.

Two years of inactivity? Five years?

What about what they did prior to lapsing? Are all 2+ year lapsed donors created equal?

When you combine that with the fact that many of the donor management software providers charge by the amount of constituents in your database (usually in ranges like 0-1000, 1000-5000, etc.), fundraisers are often faced with an ever-growing database that carries with it a rising cost without a comparable revenue increase.

Because of this, it can be tempting to constantly prune your list in order to prevent your organization from jumping to the next pricing bracket.

But this is never a good reason to delete inactive constituents.

Instead, be proactive about re-activating lapsed donors. Here’s how to get started:

Don’t delete. Segment.

Rather than writing these people off completely, we are going to separate our lapsed donors (people who haven’t given in 2+ years) and do several things with this group:

  • investigate what led up to the lapse
  • verify that you have their correct contact info
  • steward them

Let’s go through each one by one.

First, audit what led up to the lapse.

A good first step is to identify:

  • the recency and frequency of their previous giving
  • the gift acquisition channel

An easy sub-segment of your 2+ year lapsed donors is to identify how frequently they gave before lapsing. Did they:

  • give you one gift and never gave again?
  • give to you annual for several years and stopped giving?
  • were they a monthly donor who cancelled their recurring gift?

Each should trigger a unique stewardship plan, with your one-gift-only donors taking priority.

For first time donors, dig in deeper to discover how that first gift was acquired and how they were thanked (if they were thanked at all). Pay special attention to two channels:

  • Peer-to-peer
  • Memorial

These have, by-far, the lowest first-time donor retention rates. You can find some specific ideas for retaining these donors here.

Second, verify their contact information.

Your donors may still like you; they just lost touch with you.

Investing in data services that verify the contact information of the constituents in your donor databases can be pay dividends that more than make up for the upfront cost of the service.

Two no-brainers to run annually are an NCOA and a deceased suppression processing:

  • NCOA – Your donor might have simply moved, and is no longer getting information from you.
  • Deceased Suppression Processing – Your donor might have died, and that’s why the aren’t responding to you.

A third option would be an email or phone number append. If you want to invest a little more, you can verify that you also have the lapse donor’s correct email address and phone number.

Third, steward them!

Once you’ve segmented and verified their contact info, you’re ready for impactful stewardship.

The worst thing you can do is keep these lapsed donors in your bulk mailing list so that they get the same appeals that all of your other active donors get.

Instead, try:

  • Sending a lapsed donor survey (“did we do something wrong?”)
  • Calling them and simply say thank you for their support (voicemails are okay)
  • Sending them a special mailing or email that talks about all the great things their gift has done in the past (success stories, case studies, program impact!)

Just make sure that you don’t ever refer to these recipients as a “lapsed donor” (the term should never appear on a survey, email or piece of mail).

Can we move them out of the database and onto a spreadsheet?

Keeping those lapsed folks in a separate spreadsheet until they become active isn’t a bad idea, just as long as your spreadsheet empowers you to take appropriate action (segment, personalize, etc.).

So often though the spreadsheet makes it hard to see past interactions, giving history, engagement level, giving capacity, etc. and you end up hamstringing yourself from ever re-activating those folks.

One real reason to delete

Sarcasm aside, there is probably one instance when it would be a good idea to delete constituents from your donor database: you purchased or acquired a list of names, and have been unable to convert them into actual supporters of your organization.

The ethics, legality and efficacy of purchasing lists is a topic for another day. Regardless, the fact remains that if…

a. those names have never shown an interest or have no connection in your org

b. those names have no prior engagement history recorded in the database

…you’re probably safe to ditch those people, especially if it will put you in a cheaper pricing bracket or give you some space towards the next pricing bracket.

While it’s important not to treat a large database like a security blanket, your goal should be to focus on your core group of loyal supporters (likely a small group) and grow it organically.

How do you manage the size of your donor list? The more the merrier, less is best, or somewhere in between? Let me know in the comments below!

Guide to Loving Lapsed Donors

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang
Steven Shattuck is Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Executive Director of Launch Cause. A prolific writer and speaker, Steven is a contributor to "Fundraising Principles and Practice: Second Edition" and volunteers his time on the Project Work Group of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project and is an AFP Center for Fundraising Innovation (CFI) committee member.
Steven Shattuck
By | 2018-02-07T15:32:34+00:00 September 8th, 2017|Software, Donor Management|

One Comment

  1. Sophie Penney, PhD September 11, 2017 at 9:33 am - Reply

    Great piece, thanks!

Leave A Comment

Read more:
earned and paid media
3 Reasons Why Your Nonprofit Should Create an Earned Media Plan

Earned media is a crucial and beneficial tool for your marketing communications arsenal. But what exactly is it? To put...

Close