Renewing Lapsed Members

Renewing Lapsed Members

When I was in charge of the membership program at one of The Nature Conservancy’s chapter programs, all of our $100+ membership renewals were done by hand. I used a four-notice system starting with a first notice mailed two months before their renewal month and three “reminders” mailed five weeks apart and ending a month after their membership expired. I spaced them five weeks apart because it gave me something discrete to do every week.


Fundraiser’s Almanac: April


For example, the first week of April I would mail the first letters for June renewals. The second week of April, I would mail the second letters for May renewals; the third week, the third letters for April, and so on. In this system, Bill was a great help.

Bill was a nurse at the local hospital. A dedicated volunteer, he was always looking for a way to help the Conservancy, but he worked the night shift and had few opportunities to join daytime events and work parties.

So Bill dropped by the office every Tuesday afternoon and picked up a box of renewal letters and envelopes. Overnight, he would match each letter with its envelope and personalized response card. Then he would assemble and seal the mailing envelopes and affix the stamps. And he would deliver them back to the office Wednesday afternoon, ready for the mail.

None of that, of course, is the point. The point is that if you organize your work around weekly systems, like Bill and I did, you end up with months like this one – April – with five Wednesdays instead of just four. (We also have five-Wednesday months in July, September, and December this year.)

I suggest you have a plan for that extra week – like reaching out to members whose membership has lapsed.

If a member is lapsed, it means either that they said “No” or that they have received several letters, an email, and perhaps even a phone call from you without returning any kind of response. Let’s agree that when a donor/member says “No,” you mark them in such a way that they are not mistakenly solicited again. In “Renewing Lapsed Members,” we’re really talking about everyone else.

In my system, if a member were lapsed by virtue of not responding, they had already received four letters, and email, and a phone call. Maybe they need to be re-convinced. If that were true, what could you do to woo them back?

You could send them another letter, of course. But why not get a little more creative? How about an open house at the office – four times a year. Invite friends, family, board members, volunteers – and LAPSED members. You could even host the open house coincidentally with a board meeting. Board members could be tasked with phoning them and inviting them personally. OR:

  • A special field trip,
  • A challenge grant,
  • A T-shirt or hat premium, or
  • [Insert your idea here].

Bill and I mailed special Lapsed Member versions of recruitment letters, addressed post card “Save the Date” communications (See Donor Strategies: Good News, Save the Date), mailed Planned Giving information, advertised field trips, and so on.

I would include everyone on my lapsed list whose most recent gift was within the last three years. Give up trying to rekindle their interest very reluctantly. It’s easier to keep trying to renew them than to find someone to replace them.

And Bill needs something to do on those fifth Tuesday nights.


If you have tips and/or tricks you have used, please share them here. If you’ll share, I’ll post all the ideas I am aware of on this blog.



Photo credit: Owls courtesy of Walt Kaesler.

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