Reactivating inactive supporters

In a decade of campaigning data analysis, the inactive supporter segment has always been the majority of all supporters, usually from 70% to 90%. But it doesn't have to be this way.

In the various e-campaigning reviews (e-campaigning data analysis and qualitative review), I have (over the last two years) defined a 'status-spectrum' of supporters (subscribers and participants) to identify were they are on the spectrum from new to active and inactive including what 'inactive' state they are in.

In this analysis, it consistently (100% of the time so far) comes up that lapsed/inactive supporters consist of 70-90% of all campaigning supporters, but also that most of them lapse within days/weeks of 'joining'.

In fact, from a measurement point of view, most lapse within minutes of 'joining' although this is an unrealistic view because it is likely people are still 'warm' to re-engaging for a few days after joining.

Step 1: Defining and identifying 'inactive'

I use a spectrum for identifying the

  1. different 'segments' of new/active/lapsed supporters,
  2. the 'size' of the problem (the number/ proportion of supporters in each segment) and
  3. to help decide where to intervene first.

Usually, the biggest segment is 'inactive subscribers' (joined over 15 days ago, emailed 3 or more times, never clicked, never participated).


  • subscriber = someone emailings are sent to
  • participant = someone who has completed a campaigning action. For the purposes below only, a 'subscriber' is someone who has not completed a campaigning action, otherwise they become a 'participant'.


j=joined; e=emailed; c=clicked; p=participated; d=days ago; x = times

  1. New subscriber: j < 15d; p = 0
  2. Warm subscriber: j > 15d, e < 3x; p = 0
  3. Inactive subscriber: j > 15d, e 3x +, c = 0, p = 0
  4. Sceptic subscriber: j > 15d, e 3x +, c > 0, p = 0
  5. New participant: j < 15d; p > 0
  6. Warm participant: j > 15d; e < 3x, p > 0
  7. Lapsed participant: j > 15d; e > 3x, c = 0 or c > 120d; p > 0; p > 120d
  8. Sceptic participant: j > 15d; e > 3x, c < 120d; p > 0; p > 120d
  9. Occasional participant: j > 15d; e > 3x, p > 1; p > 60d and < 120d
  10. Regular participant: j > 15d; e > 3x, p > 2; p < 60d

You can adjust the above criteria for your own uses and capabilities, but ultimately most supporters' last activity is their first activity, so it is critical to act quickly.

Step 2: Reactivation / removal

I also usually suggest a 3-step re-activation / removal process which differs for each segment, for example:

  1. An email explicitly acknowledging they have been inactive/have lapsed, what active people have helped achieve in the past and what they can do to get active.
  2. For anyone who didn't respond to (1), an email acknowledging they are inactive, the lack of response to email (1) and asking them to tell you (via a non-anonymous survey) what YOU can do to get them back involved
  3. For anyone who did not respond to (2), an email acknowledging they are inactive and emails (1) and (2) saying that they will be automatically removed from the email list (e.g. within 30 days) unless they click a special link to indicate they wish to remain on the list

It could be a four step process but a 2-step process seems too abrupt since people don't ready every email and may often be too busy one week or on vacation - so while cleaning is good, 'sterilising' the list is bad!

What you will likely find from the survey in (2) is that people want to do more than you are asking and they are not convinced that an easy action will have much impact. But you aren't giving them a more compelling (for them) way to be involved!

Step 3: Prevention

Once you have re-activated or removed inactive supporters, you never want to be in a position again to accumulate 70-90% of your supporter base as inactive. To prevent this you need to:

  1. Have a welcome route for new supporters (and improve it over time based on monitoring).
  2. Run the reactivation plan regularly - ideally every week based on the segment definitions.
  3. Ensure every step of the engagement process is best practice - and continually test and improve it.
  4. Monitor your results and use feedback from the monitoring, testing and supporter feedback to fine-tune the experience (including how compelling the campaigning is!).

Having a majority of supporters is not only a wasted opportunity, it is a waste of time and money to attract new supporters and it has the potential to undermine the perception of your organisation and campaigning in the very people (and their friends) who are most likely to be supporters.

More Reading

The issue of re-activating lapsed subscribers / supporters isn't new nor is it unique to digital communications. Here are what others have also said.

Email me if you have others to add.

by Duane Raymond published Feb 01, 2012,