14 Mar Print All First Renewal Letters Now – in March
14 March 2023
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
Happy PI Day!!
One of the complaints I hear fairly often is that we didn’t do as well as we had hoped because the mail didn’t go out on time. The appeal didn’t go out on time. The renewals were delayed. We were only able to get one reminder out before we ran out of time.
And so on.
If this is you (or might be you someday), consider this: You know, right now, every member who will be renewing this year (assuming, of course, that you have members who renew every year). You know what they gave last year about this time. And you know what you will be asking them to give this year. In other words, you have everything you need to merge their letters and print them – right now – in March.
Why not do it?
Better yet, you can probably use the same letter you used last year. Why will people give again? Because “it’s time.”
You gave last year. You give every year in [insert month]. You have been giving every year in [month] since [year]. We are still the organization you know and love. It’s time. Please give again.
That’s the central argument for giving. (Those are not the words. Please don’t use those words!) But that argument doesn’t change much year after year.
So don’t overly complicate renewal letters with unnecessary facts and figures and accomplishments and long-winded explanations of new projects. The letter should be warm and personable. It should list board members and/or key staff down the side of the letterhead (Board Directors give organizations credibility). It should get to the point quickly (in the first paragraph). It should express appreciation for last’s year’s gift and mention how long they’ve been members. It should ask for a specific amount of money. It should have a PS note. And it should all fit on a single page (page and a half – tops).
Dear David, Member Since 2002
Last December, Bob and Ann Smith completed a deal that conserved about two-thirds of their wooded property along the lakeshore. This conservation success was made possible by people like you who had helped sustain Land Trust through annual contributions. When the Smiths were ready, Land Trust was there. On behalf of everyone here at Land Trust, I want to thank you! so much for your membership support and encourage you to renew at this time.
Please consider a gift of $100 or more this year to accelerate the pace of conservation work locally. If you are in a position to consider a significantly larger gift, please be as generous as possible. If $100 is not in the cards, please consider an amount that is more comfortable for you. No gift is too small to make a difference in land conservation!
By renewing today, you help make important conservation work possible and right here, close to home. So, please take a moment to use the enclosed form to renew your annual commitment to Land Trust, or go online and renew there – [insert URL to renewal page].
And thank you in advance for your continued support!
P.S. Thank you for considering a gift of $100 or more to support land conservation in [State or Region]!
Regarding the ask: the majority of your donors gave less than $100 last year. Asking for $100 this year (in the first renewal letter) is not unfair, and if you do so, the effort will return a great deal more money.
I hope it is obvious, but just in case it isn’t … always ask in the first letter for a renewal gift just a bit higher than what they gave last year. So if a donor gave $100 last year, ask them for $150. So this $100 ask recommendation is ONLY for those donors who gave less than $100 last year.
And always – ALWAYS – ask for a specific amount of money.
So now that you’ve got the first one, write two more along the same themes. (Donors responding to the first letter would not receive the second or third. But those not responding may not have received it or opened it – a reminder will be helpful.)
The second letter’s message is also short and sweet.
“This is just a quick note to remind you that your membership with Land Trust expires this month. I want to thank you for your membership support last year and encourage you to renew at this time.”
In fact, you can use almost the same language from there. It’s a reminder, not a completely new letter! Again, the ask is specific and based on what they gave last year. You might even mention what they gave last year. “In 2022, you contributed $75 as your membership gift. Please consider a gift of $100 or more this year.”
A third letter’s message is all about not letting their membership lapse. The language is just a bit stronger and more urgent.
Your membership with Land Trust expired last month! Please take a moment right now to bring it current.
By renewing today, you help make important conservation work possible and right here, close to home. Dues provide critical support for Land Trust and deliver proven conservation options to a growing list of private landowners and priority projects. As a member, you help make the mission – [insert your mission statement] – a reality.
So, please take a moment to use the enclosed form to renew your annual commitment to Land Trust. Your renewal gift of any amount is both highly appreciated and highly leveraged through foundation and public grants. Last year you gave $$$$. Please consider a similar amount this year.
Thank you in advance for your continued support!
P.S. Thank you for considering a gift of $100 or more to support land conservation in [State or Region]!
- Use at least 13 point type and one-inch margins (if you have too many words, cut the number of words instead of making it tinier and harder to read)
- Don’t use graphics or embedded pictures – they distract from the message
- Keep it under two pages – one page is enough for renewal letters
- Separate the letters by four to five weeks
- Track number and percentage response to each letter and average gift for year-to-year comparisons
Consider this as a simplified process and adjust it to meet your individual needs. But consider doing it now. Before it’s crunch time.
- First dig out the renewal letter(s) you wrote last year. Does it still work? Short, sweet, and personable? Make any adjustments necessary.
- The merge system with which I am the most familiar merges Excel spreadsheet data into a Word Letter file. If that’s true for you, too, you may want to make some adjustments to the Excel file after it comes out of your database.
- The address block is better merged as a block than as component pieces. That way, you don’t end up having to format four-line addresses by hand. (Look up the function “concatenate” if this is new to you.)
- The Salutation field may need to be adjusted – pay specific attention to multiple people at the same address and anyone using an initial as a first name. (Is the salutation for N. Smith Mr. Smith or Ms. Smith?) Make any and ALL adjustments in the database, too. If you can get this data right in the database, future merge files will be cleaner and easier.
- You may wish to include populated columns (fields) for “Member Since”, and “Letter Date” to make the merge process easier.
- Now segment your entire membership list by amount of their last membership gift. Segment the list into at least four groups (you can certainly merge the list into more than just four, but do it for at least these four):
- A Group – Members who gave less than $100 last year.
- B Group – Members who gave between $100-249
- C Group – Members who gave between $250-$999
- D Group – Members who gave $1,000 or more
- Merge the A Group into a letter asking for $100. This will be the largest group you have.
- Merge the B Group into a letter asking for $250.
- Plan to ask board members to sign (and perhaps even write!) letters to the C Group by hand asking for $1,000.
- Consider the D Group individually and ask for their renewal in person to the greatest extent possible.
- Now print all the letters for Groups A and B, using the date that you intend to actually mail them as the date on each letter. Stuff them into envelopes with the appropriate response card and/or envelope and set them aside in date order for mailing later.
Why go to all this trouble in March? Because, by printing all your renewal letters now, you will have time to plan the cultivation of donor/members in Groups C and D later in the year. Depending on your organization, the C and D groups will account for 60-90 percent of the money you raise for operations by the end of the year.
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 Willfried Wende, courtesy pixabay.com
WillPosted at 16:39h, 15 March
In the fall you did a post on four page appeals. Many fundraising books mention four page appeals, as well. Yet in this post you suggest a short letter. What is the distinction between when to send a short appeal or the four page one?
David AllenPosted at 07:24h, 16 March
Great question, Will, and thank you for asking it.
Fundraising letter-writing is fundamentally a technical exercise, and there is a strong technical difference between a “renewal” letter and an “appeal” letter. The purpose of an “appeal” letter is to interest the reader in making a first gift or in making a special (non-renewable) gift during the same year. Appeal letters are longer because part of their success depends on the time it takes for someone to absorb the letter’s emotional “appeal.” They are not necessarily predisposed to responding; ergo it takes longer to make the giving decision. Nonprofits use appeal letters for people who are not members, asking them to give for the first time. And they use appeal letters to ask current donors to make a second and/or third gift in the same year.
“Renewal” letters are fundamentally different. The purpose of a renewal letter is to remind someone of a decision they have already made. To remind them that it’s time. The reason someone renews is also emotional, but this time it’s based on loyalty and momentum. Yours is one of the organizations that they support. They do this every year. This “reminding” can be accomplished in a very short letter. Good, longer letters can still work, but they aren’t necessary. And they run the risk of bringing this emotional predisposition out into an intellectual light.
Thanks for the question!
DaniellePosted at 12:43h, 14 March
Our letters go to the printer tomorrow! And now I feel like a Rockstar on pie day 🙂 Thank you, David!
David AllenPosted at 12:48h, 14 March
You ARE a Rockstar, Danielle! (Despite the impression Ozzy Osbourne might have left on SuperBowl Sunday.)