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WTF is a WHYFU? 🤷‍♀️

These are two of my favourite acronyms—and while I’m sure you’re familiar with the first one, you may not know the second! 

WHYFU stands for “Why Have You Forsaken Us?” (or “Forgotten Us,” if you’re not as keen on the dramatics). It’s a way to re-engage with your lapsed direct mail donors, with the dual goals of reactivating lapsed donors and cleaning up your mail list. 

A WHYFU mailing includes a short note reminding the donor that you haven’t heard from them in a while (typically starting at the 36- to 48-month mark), and briefly describing the impact their past support has had. It gives them a chance to renew right away with a personalized reply form, but also integrates aspects of a donor survey to ask them why they stopped giving, and what you can do to bring them back.  

Some of my favourite questions from past WHYFU appeals include “What can we do to improve your experience as a donor?” “What can we do to earn back your trust?” and “What matters most to you about the work we do?”. The information gleaned from donor responses will be useful in a tactical way, but can also reconnect the donor with the good feelings and dopamine rush they had when they gave in the first place.


No Time Like the Present

This time of year is ideal for a WHYFU mailing to your long-lapsed, lapsing, and even about-to-lapse direct mail file. Or, consider including a WHYFU version of your renewal or spring mailing just for your long lapsed and lapsed donor segments. Their responses can then be incorporated into your direct response fundraising activities for the rest of the year. 

Avoiding Lapsed Donors in the First Place

In a perfect direct response program, you’d never need to do a WHYFU mailing, because you’d never have any lapsed donors. In real life, most organizations’ renewal rates are abysmal—well below 50%. 

We know that people stop giving for essentially three reasons: 

  1. Their financial circumstances change; 

  2. They pass away;

  3. You didn’t meet their needs and expectations as a donor. 

Obviously you can’t do much about 1 and 2, but 3 is directly related to your stewardship activities. A strong stewardship plan with a variety of non-ask touchpoints throughout the year, on multiple channels, that connect the donor with the impact of their gift will directly address those unmet donor needs. You’ll know your stewardship plan is effective when your overall renewal rate and your second- and third-gift conversion rates begin to climb. 

For direct mail programs, you can also actively remove “lost” lapsed donors by ensuring you’re using a postage rate with guaranteed return mail and by having your mailing house run an NCOA (National Change of Address) review on your mailing list at least once per year.  

WHYFU for Email

The WHYFU concept is also a great tool for cleaning up your email list. In addition to regularly removing inactive and invalid email addresses, you can identify the people on your email list who haven’t interacted with you for a while, and ask them if they still want to hear from you. For most organizations, that means people who haven’t engaged with your email content for about 24 months.

Plan to send a series of 2-3 emails (and bonus points if you automate them!) with a single call to action (“Click here to continue hearing from us”). Highlight the reasons why they’ll hear from you: to share the impact of their gift, to provide important updates, and to keep them informed on opportunities to make a difference in the future. And then be sure to update your records accordingly.   

This regular list maintenance ensures you’re focusing on connecting with people who want to hear from you and care about your work. It also leads to improved email deliverability and makes your emails less likely to be marked as spam. 

And while we’re talking about email deliverability, Yahoo and Google are implementing changes on February 1st that will impact your organization’s email success rates. Chances are you’re already compliant, but our friend Erik Rubadeau at Yeeboo Digital wrote a great summary if you’d like to learn more.  


Looking for some help with your annual giving integrated campaign strategy, content, or execution? Broccoli can help! Email us at for a free, no-obligation conversation about how we might work together to elevate your fundraising this year. 


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Holly H. Paulin, CFRE and Brock Warner CFRE are the co-founders of Broccoli, and have over 30 years combined experience helping nonprofit fundraisers and charities do more. 

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