Gone, But Don’t Forget Them

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been focused on a communications assignment dealing with constituents who have been lost—as in they decided to end their relationship with an organization. For one reason or another, these individuals decided to move on from the organization in which they once believed.

In this week’s intersection, I thought I’d share a few of the ideas, techniques, and lessons I’ve been putting to use to build communications to this most difficult of audiences—those who don’t want you anymore.

Lesson 1: Don’t Forget the Ones That Leave

It’s easy to do. Someone leaves you—a donor, a member, or a volunteer—so you stop investing in them. Try not to do that. Take the high road and use the change in the relationship as an opportunity. The first, essential step to do that is simply to identify and remember the individuals or organizations that have moved on, regardless of size, contribution, tenure or any other means of measuring the relationship. Hold on to that information so you can put it to use later.

Lesson 2: Pick Your Spot

Look for the right time to send a follow up message to the ones that have left. In some cases, that might be right away. In other cases, it might be best to let some time lapse. Let the circumstances of the departure be your guide and use your instincts on the right timing. And when you do follow up, consider the right person and vehicle to carry the message. Should it be a personal phone call from the Executive Director? Would it be better to be a personal, hand-written letter? Maybe an email would do? Take full consideration of the nature of the relationship and the circumstances surrounding the change in it and use those as your guide to finding the right voice and channel.

Lesson 3: Don’t Expect a Change of Heart

When you do make an outreach, keep your expectations low. In fact, don’t expect the individual or organization to return to the fold at all. Instead, use the opportunity to genuinely get smarter to help prevent future departures. Give some advance thought to what you think could have been done better or not missed and then ask a few questions to deepen your knowledge of what caused breakdowns. If you are genuine in wanting to improve and move on that will come across and that will speak volumes to the character of your operation. And if it feels right, offer an on-ramp for the individual or organization to come back in the future. Let them know how they can or could re-engage if circumstances change.

It’s never easy losing a key donor or valuable members. But in losing, look for ways to uncover small wins. A loss without any related learning is the worst kind of loss. You can use smart communications to prevent that and make the most of difficult situations.