Old Dogs; New Tricks

Old Dogs; New Tricks

I’ve never been a fan of gift memberships or member-get-a-member campaigns, because the renewal rate on these types of memberships is so dismal – 10 percent is about as good as you could hope for. So I had my usual skepticism in full display the other day when my friend John turned me around 180 degrees.

John has a great deal of experience in public television and radio fundraising and is a wizard behind the scenes with computers and data – there isn’t a statistic or a number associated with various appeals and campaigns that he can’t find – and he’s very good at it. John says that comparing gift membership renewal rates to regular renewal rates is folly. The better comparison is with new member acquisition. His 2009 “acquisition rate” off a gift member list was 8 percent, well above the best new membership acquisition mail I’ve seen anywhere.

Thank you, John. Consider me a convert.

My advice to clients now is “try it, and see if it works for you”. Here are several tips, based on John’s experience:

  • Produce a membership nomination card that includes blanks for both nominee and nominator information. Be sure to include a blank for email. You might require a gift membership payment, in which case keep the options very simple, but consider complimentary memberships also, or a “special introductory rate”.
  • For small organizations, you may wish to distribute it with your membership renewal thank you letters. Alternatively, you could fold it into your newsletter, especially if you have a new member matching grant in hand.
  • For larger organizations, I suggest making it a benefit for the $100 level. (You might even send two cards to members at the $1,000 level.)
  • For all organizations, I recommend allowing Board members to nominate as many people as possible.
  • Once you receive a nominated member form, enter them into your database in such a way as to be able to track them separately. Send them a notice of their nomination including the name of their benefactor. If they were nominated by a Board member, include a letter signed by the Board member.
  • Through the next 15 months, send these nominated members everything you would normally send to any member including newsletters and appeals. If they should respond to one of the appeals, start a regular membership for them at that point in time.
  • After 10 months, start sending them a renewal sequence modified to reflect their nominated status. Also, on their fourth newsletter, send it first class with a note stapled inside that indicates that their nominated membership is expiring – please renew today.
  • Finally, if/when one of these nominated members joins, send a thank you note to the person who nominated them.

Does your organization use gift memberships? What is your experience? As always, your comments, responses, and questions are welcomed here and by email at fundraisinghelp@sbcglobal.net



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