Is your lapsed member letter getting a response rate that is too good?

Is your lapsed member letter getting a response rate that is too good?

The following is an updated version of a post I wrote in October 2009.

I recently completed a Development Audit for an organization whose Lapsed Member renewal letter returned a whopping 15 percent. When I dug a little deeper, I learned that they typically send out two renewal letters, both fairly short and to the point (half-page with a response coupon printed along the bottom). The renewals were done monthly. Unresponsive members were dropped until the end of the year when a two-page Lapsed Member letter (We miss you!) was mailed. Members who typically renewed between October and December did not receive the Lapsed Member letter until the end of the following year.

It was this annual letter that had gotten the large response. On the one hand, 15 percent is a terrific response and much better than the 1 percent response typical of direct mail recruitment. On the other hand, many of these same members might have responded earlier if they had been asked.

I suggested that they consider the following modifications:

  • Increase the number of renewal notices to four with the last one being a letter very close in substance to the Lapsed Member letter they were already using. Each letter would be separated by one month.
  • Unresponsive members should not be dropped at all, but rather carried as regular current members (President’s discretion) for an entire year afterward, at which point they would receive the entire four-letter sequence over again. Only then would unresponsive members be dropped.
  • Meanwhile, they would also receive the Spring and/or Fall special appeal just as if they were current members. If they responded to one of the appeals, their gift would also count as a renewal and their renewal date would be advanced to that month.
  • Remind each member of the membership gift they gave last year in every letter, and match different response cards such that they are not offered gift options less than what they gave last year.

What are you doing to get more out of your membership systems? Please send comments and questions to



Here are some other articles I found interesting this week:

  • Adult Americans send or receive an average of 41 text messages per day. 31% say they prefer texting to talking on the phone. Say what? (Article)
  • New HP Study on Social Media: When people see that lots of others disagree with them, they tend to harden their position rather than being swayed to change.
  • Marketing research is showing that “loss” messaging significantly outperforms “win” messaging with donors. Instead of claiming that “your donation will help save the 100-acre XYZ project,” try this: “Let’s not lose another 100 acres! Your donation will help at XYZ project.”
  • Environmental nonprofits lack a compelling vision for promoting global sustainability, and without such a vision, they will fail to galvanize the support essential to protecting the earth from irreversible damage……….progress must be made piece by piece, wherever and whenever it can be made, rather than waiting to achieve a global consensus.” Is there a better argument for land trusts anywhere?



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