Right-sizing your Suppression File

Recapturing Lapsed Donors
Date Published
Amy Houke

We all know that direct mail is the best way to bring in quality, first-time donors to your organization. Equally important is retaining the donors you already have. Chances are your contact strategy outlines a very intentional approach to recapturing lapsed donors. Likely, it entails mailing them until it is no longer profitable to do so. But once a lapsed member has dropped out of your recapture machine, then what?

It is possible that you still include that individual (and each lost lapsed member who went before) on your suppression file, citing that you wouldn’t want to pay for a name you already own. Or perhaps, your suppression “strategy” isn’t a strategy at all but involves just re-running an existing query that hasn’t been reviewed or modified for years. Few fundraisers look at the full implications of these approaches.

Implication #1: Continual and perpetual suppression of all people who ever had anything to do with your organization robs them of the ability to ever be engaged by you again, at least through the mail. Leaving them out of your acquisition direct mail efforts fails to recognize the changes in their life seasons and situations that may have brought them back to you, had you only asked.

Implication #2: Over-suppression forces your list buy and merge to work harder to find you good prospective donors. In order to maintain your mail quantities, your list buy will include lower performing lists to make up the quantity that is being lost in the merge. In essence, you’re replacing responsive former donor names with lower end rental list names.

Implication #3: As mentioned in implication #2, the more names you suppress, the more names get thrown out post-merge and the more names you have to purchase. These purchased names come to you at a cost. Acquisition direct mail is already your most costly channel. The “I don’t want to buy a name I already own” philosophy only holds up if you are actually mailing that name. And mailing all of your deeply lapsed people (without first qualifying them) just doesn’t make sense. Your recapture strategy has already proven that to be true. Removing them from the suppression file allows you to qualify them at no cost. If they’ve stopped giving to you but appear on one of your outside lists, they’re giving elsewhere. With the right appeal and in their current lifestage, they may just choose to give to you again.

Implication #4: The most important consequence of over-suppression is response rate. In your list mix, the names of people who used to give to you and stopped and have been re-qualified by virtue of their appearance on another list are likely the most responsive names. Your response rate in acquisition can only go up when your suppression strategy is revised. We’ve already seen response rates up as much as 60% in stations that have corrected their suppress file criteria.

Remember that this change will cause deeply lapsed donors to show back up as responses to your acquisition effort. Be sure you’ve notified your internal customer service group of the change you’ve made so the group is equipped to handle new-but-not-really-new names in your database.

So in your next direct mail acquisition campaign, don’t just run the suppression file query — dissect it. Ask yourself who should really be suppressed. If former members are lapsed and you have stopped attempting to recapture them, they should not be suppressed. This one small change to an otherwise very tactical part of your program can lead to a very significant improvement in your bottom line. Call Allegiance Fundraising for help at 844-858-7654.

About the Author:
Amy Houke
Media Director, Agency Services

Role at the Company

I am responsible for providing media research and recommendations to AFG clients. I work closely with other AFG team members to assure that prospect list and print recommendations are consistent with the overall strategic and creative direction of each program.

My experience has included media planning for many types of non-profit clients, including public broadcasting stations, animal welfare organizations and food banks.

What excites you about your work at AFG?

Successful fundraising is about getting your organization’s mission into the hearts of your current and prospective donors. My job is to identify your future donors. That comes from a deep understanding of who your current donors are and what they look like. That’s exciting!

What are your hobbies/interests outside AFG?

I enjoy serving in small group leadership and doing local mission work with my church.

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