Unless you are brand-new to the world fundraising, I’d be willing to bet you’ve heard the terms LYBUNT (last year but unfortunately not this) and SYBUNT (some years but unfortunately not this) in reference to donors who’ve failed to renew their support.
Despite the fact this jargon is deeply engrained in the nonprofit fundraising lexicon (your donor database probably has a canned report that will automatically pull a list of lybunts, for example), it’s misleading, problematic, and should be banished from your terminology asap.
Reason # 1: LYBUNTS are not necessarily “at-risk” donors.
Presumably, the intention of a LYBUNT report is to pull a list of donors who are “at-risk” of lapsing because they haven’t given yet this year.
But a closer look reveals these donors aren’t at-risk at all. Rather, they should be considered and treated as current donors – and there is nothing “unfortunate” about that whatsoever.
If, in May of 2020, I pull a list of donors who gave last year (2019) but not yet this year (2020), I’m likely to find that many of these donors’ last gifts were in quarter 4 of 2019. That’s hardly a big gap in giving. They needn’t be considered at-risk since their next gift is likely to arrive towards the end of 2020.
Even a list of lybunts pulled in October of 2020 will be of little value because those donors are due to give again in the next few months. At this point, you’ve already planned a year-end renewal campaign strategy designed to inspire a renewal of their support. And a year-end campaign should include every current donor – even those who have already given during the current calendar year – not just lybunts.
A lybunt list would be useful then, only at the very end of the calendar year as a part of your year-end campaign strategy to reach out to donors who haven’t yet responded.
The language used in outreach to these donors should be carefully crafted. Communicating with donors using language that refers to their lack of recent giving, when in fact those donors still think of themselves as loyal donors, is a good way to damage those relationships.
Reason #2: “Some Years” of giving is not necessarily relevant.
Who exactly is a “SYBUNT” anyway? What does this even mean?
Are you referring to a donor whose “some years” of giving was 13 or 14 years ago? Are you talking about a donor whose last gift was three years ago?
It would be unwise to apply the same strategies for these two very different segments.
Just because a donor has given “some years” before, does not make this donor a priority for your time and resources.
Rather, you need to determine specific parameters for what constitutes a significant giving history within your organization. You need to identify specific donors who are worthy of your limited resources.
For example, in May of 2020, I’d argue that it makes sense to send a targeted, strategic lapsed donor re-engagement campaign to donors under these parameters:
- at least two (or perhaps 3) gifts ever AND
- last gift between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2018 (no gift in 2019)
Rather than SYBUNT, in this case we’d be talking about “TTOFYABNLYs” (two, three, or four years ago but not last year).
Reason #3: Other people in your organization may be unfamiliar with these terms.
If your goal is to impress your board or your development committee with how in-the-know you are about fundraising, throwing these terms around might be useful.
Otherwise, it will only confuse them, force questions, and require further clarification. Stick with language other people can more easily understand.
Reason #4: LYBUNTS and SYBUNTS are relative terms, not static donor segments, and are difficult to measure accurately.
If your goal is to prevent at-risk donors from lapsing, or to renew already lapsed donors, you need to know if the strategies you’re using are actually working. This means measuring effectiveness and comparing metrics from year to year.
Without a firm definition for “lapsed” or “at-risk” donors, you run the risk of comparing apples to oranges when you compare renewal rates from one year to the next.
LYBUNTS and SYBUNTS are not clearly defined donor segments.
Additionally, they’re relative terms, meaning the individuals in the group ebb and flow depending on the point during the year the list is pulled. The list of lybunts in April include more people than in December, with different implications and goals.
You can’t measure a moving target. Imagine trying to measure your toddler’s height while she is running around the playground.
When it comes to metrics, consistency is key. These terms, lybunt and sybunt are insufficient at ensuring that consistency.
Here is one suggestion for a more effective approach to renew at-risk, recently lapsed donors:
- At the beginning of the year, during your annual donor review, identify a specific pool of donors who did not contribute financially during the prior year.
- Develop specific strategies designed to inspire their renewal over the course of the year.
- At the beginning of the next year, calculate the per percentage of these specific donors who renewed their giving over the course of the prior year, when you were actively working to get them back.
You could also design an A/B test for an outreach strategy targeted towards donors who haven’t given yet by a specifically defined point in the current year. To determine if that effort made a difference in increasing renewals:
- Pull at list of donors who made a gift in the prior year, but not between January 1 and your specifically defined date (i.e. May 31) in the current calendar year.
- Divide the list by last name into equal halves.
- The active group receives the outreach activity. The control group does not.
- In quarter 1 of the following calendar year, compare the renewal rates of your active group to your control group. If the renewal rates of your active group exceed the renewal rates of the control group, you should repeat the outreach strategy, continuing to measure and compare results of the two groups.
Regardless of what you choose to call them and how you choose to prioritize lapsed or at-risk donors, the key is to be intentional, specific, and thoughtful in your approach to managing and communicating with your donors – not just because “everyone else is doing it.”