31 Jan On Membership Levels and Data Retention
31 January 2023
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
Two questions came through my inbox this week. I answered both in due course, but I get asked these a lot, and it occurred to me that I should share them here as well.
The first question: We’re redoing our membership levels, and I’d like some advice about how many we should have.
Before I answer, please know that I think there are two competing ideas here. The first involves what you ask for and the second involves how you recognize the gift. Let’s tackle both, starting with recognition.
Some organizations confer governance authority on their membership. Most do not. If you do, there’s nothing wrong with that, but governance is NOT what I’m talking about here. So, with that qualification, here’s my take:
- Membership should be recognized with as personal a thank-you letter as your organization can muster in as short a period of time after the gift is made as possible. And members should get a paper newsletter at least four times each year.
- That’s it.
- Any one who gives any amount of money, restricted or unrestricted, should be considered a member. 366 days later, they are not a member any more (unless they have made another gift). OK – that’s a bit harsh, but at least cut them off after 15 months. People who aren’t members don’t get a paper newsletter. (They don’t get thanked for renewing either!)
- I strongly recommend named thresholds (donor circles) for members who give above a certain amount and leave their gift unrestricted. Each named threshold should be strongly branded and should feature a signature token or special event – for example a branded jar of honey or jam (nature preserves?), a fleece jacket, or an elegant outdoor dinner. For this reason, the number of naming thresholds should be minimal. My recommendation would be $365, $1,000, $10,000, and $25,000.
- BUT – I would not offer a named threshold until and unless there are at least eight donors already giving at that level (or above).
- So – a donor of any amount is a “member” until they make a threshold gift of $365. After that they are a ____________.
Now we can tackle the second idea: what you ask for. I would always ask for more than they gave last year, and I would rarely ask for more than four times what they gave last year.
- If they gave less than $35, I would ask for $50.
- If they gave $35-99, I would ask for $100
- If they gave $100-$249, I would ask for $365, and I would “name” the threshold amount accordingly.
- If they gave $250-999, I would ask for $1,000, and I would “name” the threshold amount accordingly.
You can probably get the rest of the idea from there. Note that most of the “ask” levels are not named. When you ask for a number greater than what they gave last year, I recommend offering several check-box options to choose from. From left to right, start with what they gave last year, then the ask amount, then two levels above the ask amount, and “Other.”
Example for someone who gave $50 last year:
$50 $100 $250 $365 (Every Day Stewards) Other
The second question: Can you point me to any resources that consider when to drop a person from a land trust’s direct mail lists? Three years of no giving or activity? Five?
Here’s how I answered:
- I would cut non-responsive donors from receiving the paper newsletter after 15 months.
- I would still try to renew their membership for another year after that.
- I would continue sending all appeal letters for another three years after that – until it has been five years since their most recent gift.
- And I would continue to include their names in any letters that are mailed for the purpose of recruiting new members. The bottom line is that even someone who gave you money twenty years ago is worth more than someone who has never given money.
To put it even more plainly, I would never cull them completely from the database and I would never completely stop asking them to give again.
HOWEVER, there are two exceptions that are important. First, and most obvious, is when someone requests to be removed, or requests that you cease sending any mail to them whatsoever. In BOTH cases, they should NOT be removed – they should be flagged DONOTMAIL. This should ensure that they do not get mailed by accident when you acquire a prospecting list from another organization.
The other exception, is that you should at least consider NOT cutting off most donors above a certain age, probably 70 or 75. The logic here is that a large number of bequest gifts are adjusted even within the last five years of a person’s life. Many of these donors will stop making annual gifts within this same window. If you consequently cut them off from receiving the paper newsletter and/or regular appeal letter mail as soon as they stop giving, you may be unwittingly creating a circumstance where they remove you from their will.
Pro-tip: You don’t want to do that.
I expect that there will be push-back on many of these points. Please leave me a note in the comments section below, and let me know what you think.
Cheers, and Have a great week.
PS: Your comments on these posts are welcomed and warmly requested. If you have not posted a comment before, or if you are using a new email address, please know that there may be a delay in seeing your posted comment. That’s my SPAM defense at work. I approve all comments as soon as I am able during the day.
Photo by Dave Boardman, courtesy pixabay.com