Recycling: How Many Renewal Letters Should We Send?

Recycling: How Many Renewal Letters Should We Send?

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

The answer to this question is “As many as it takes”.

Part of the job in fundraising is to build a strong, broad base for your fundraising by recruiting and retaining basic membership support. You do that by recruiting new members each year and by renewing the ones you already have.

The trouble is that not everyone responds to the first renewal letter. So send a second one, and a third one, and a fourth one. Track the response rate for each letter. If you are getting better than a 1 percent response rate, you’re still doing better than recruitment mail.

You may get some push-back in the form of complaints about getting too much mail, or complaints about having responded to the special appeal just four months ago. You may be sensitive about how much paper your resource-conscious organization uses. You may be tempted to leave it at a single letter or just one follow-up letter. In a word, Don’t.

First-year renewal rates are notoriously low – typically less than 50 percent, but each year a member renews, the likelihood that they will renew again increases. Third year renewals typically renew at 85 percent or better. It is well worth the effort, and the additional letters, to keep them in the fold this year as well.

Here are several ideas that can help you boost your renewal rate:

  • Use Email: Send your first renewal letter by email and include an option for making their renewal gift electronically. It saves paper, it appeals to a certain segment of your membership, and it is efficient. (See my earlier post on email renewals here.)
  • Send Four notices, even if the first is an email. The first one has a short and sweet message: You know us, you love us, you gave $$$ last year, it’s time to renew. The second notice says (in effect): We’re sorry you missed the first notice, your membership is about to expire, please renew today. The third notice introduces some urgency: Your membership is about to expire! The fourth notice is much different. The fourth notice lays out the essential case for support. Who the organization is and why the work is important to accomplish. It includes a passage about your track record of accomplishment and describes the challenges ahead. This notice is much longer as a result – often three or four pages. The donor needs to be resold on the organization. It will take time and space to get this done.
  • If, after four letters, the member remains unresponsive, carry them as regular current members (President’s discretion) for an entire year afterward, at which point they receive the entire four-letter sequence over again. Only then should unresponsive members be dropped.
  • Meanwhile, they should also receive the Spring and/or Fall special appeal just as if they were current members. If they respond to one of the appeals, their gift should also count as a renewal and their renewal date should be advanced to that month/season.
  • Separate your renewals into at least seasons, if not all the way into months. Not everyone wants to give in the fall, and you will raise more money by sending people solicitations at a time when they wish to be solicited. Calendar your membership work such that every member gets a renewal notice sequence and a special appeal every year. Try to avoid sending both a renewal and an appeal within the same 3-4 month period, and if you must decide which to send, send the membership renewal.

Your comments, responses, and questions are welcomed here and by email at



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