Lapsed Donor Surveys

Posted on 02/15/2018

SYBUNT is an acronym that stands for “Some Year But Unfortunately Not This.” It’s commonly used in annual giving to describe someone who has given at some point in the past, but has not given in the current or most recent fiscal year. The term that’s often used to describe when a donor skips a year of giving is lapsing.

There are numerous reasons why a donor might lapse. Did they have a bad experience the last time they made a gift? Could they have moved and you haven’t been able to update their new address? Was their last donation inspired by a challenge, a class reunion, or some token incentive that got them excited – but only for a moment? Did they just forget?

Understanding why someone lapsed can be an important step to winning them back. With this in mind, the University of Houston conducted a survey of their SYBUNTs (see example below). In it, they asked these lapsed donors:

  • Why haven’t you given recently?
  • What motivated you to give in the past?
  • What would increase the likelihood that you’ll give in the future?
  • How could our annual giving program improve our efforts?

To encourage responses, all participants were offered personalized return address labels. Within a few months, the survey received over 400 replies. The data was used to inform UH’s donor reactivation strategies and think about shortcomings in their donor stewardship efforts. And data wasn’t the only benefit of the survey. Many donors used it as a chance to update their personal and employment information. Others used it as an opportunity to renew their gift, with over 250 participants sending back donations after taking the survey.

Among the most common comments from UH’s survey was that people wanted the university to do a better job of explaining how their gifts were used. Once you know some of the reasons why your SYBUNTS have lapsed, you can execute a plan to more successfully steward them and increase reactivation and ongoing renewal rates.



This article has been adapted from the book Ideas for Annual Giving by Dan Allenby. Copyright (c) 2016 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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