The Search for Renewal

The Search for Renewal


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


Among the data points I get back from my website each week is the number of “page hits” I get from the top twenty or so most popular pages.

The most popular page right now is a 2015 post of Writing Renewal Letters. And it has been for about the last month.

If the popularity of that page somehow reflects how many of you are spending your time in November and December, let me point out that one of the points of that post was a recommendation to write your renewal letters for the year in February. Get that activity out of the end-of-year flurry!

Let me also provide this quick reminder primer:

  • 1-2 pages
  • Warm, but mostly all business
  • Include what they gave last year, a specific ask amount for this year (more), and a reference to how long they’ve been a member
  • At least 12 point type and one-inch margins
  • Don’t use graphics or embedded pictures – they are distracting
  • At least two follow-up letters to those who do not respond, spaced 4-5 weeks apart

Also, check out these more recent posts on writing renewal letters. They offer slightly improved thinking, in my opinion – not that the 2015 post was bad.

Don’t Overdo Renewal Letters

Development Planning from Scratch – Current Donors

A common mistake many land trusts make is to treat all fundraising letters the same. I recently completed a development audit for a land trust that sends two appeal letters each year, one in the Fall that was mailed to everyone, and one in the Spring that went only to those who did not renew from the Fall letter. Members also received “update” mailings in March and September which looked like appeal letters, but did not carry an overt ask. A donor’s first gift in a calendar year was considered his/her “renewal,” and a second gift was considered a “donation.” This practice is not uncommon.

In general, I look for membership systems to generate an overall renewal rate of 70-75%, and 80-85% when first renewals (members who have made only one gift to the land trust) are removed. If your actual renewal rate (on a strict 365-day basis) is that high, I strongly recommend that you do not monkey with your current renewal systems. That organization’s letters combined for a 65% response and 78% with first renewal removed. They could do better.

I suggested that they make a stronger differentiation between “renewal” mail and “appeal” mail. Renewal invitations more typically include a sequence of at least three and perhaps four letters. Each letter is a single page with a simple message, “Your membership is due for renewal.” Appeal letters should look and feel different. They are recommended to be four-page letters that tell compelling stories and ask for a second, special gift.

The most important way most letters I see could be improved is to include a specific ask amount in the solicitation paragraph. The “ask” message should be clear and specific. For example:

  • Please consider a gift this year of $50.
  • Please write a check today for $750.
  • Please consider making a pledge of $25 per month.

If you are among those looking for specific information from the posts on writing renewal letters, let me know what you’re looking for and I can try to help further.






PS: Special thanks – I am grateful – this week to Trish who forwarded a link to a video, Anatomy of Gratitude, by Brother David Steindl-Rast. If you are interested, you can find the link, and her email, in the comments from last week’s blog.


Photo by Snapwire courtesy of

Share this!
No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.