Renewals, Follow-up, and Timing

Renewals, Follow-up, and Timing


7 May 2024


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


The secret to successful fundraising is asking. The secret to effective asking is follow-up. And the secret to effective follow-up is timing.

Take a look at your 12-month renewal rate. How many households made a gift in any 365-day period (Y1) and how many of those same households made a gift in the 365-day period immediately following it (Y2). The 12-month renewal rate is then Y2/Y1.

I believe the “sweet spot” is between 70 and 75 percent.

Most organizations are below that and some are well below that. The national non-profit experience is more like 45-50%.

And it’s a problem.

ANY household that made a gift last year is more likely to make another gift this year than ANY household that did not.

So why give up on them after one request?

Follow-up instead.


It’s tempting to believe that people not responding are saying “no,” or “not this year.” In fact, they have probably just forgotten about you.


Send another letter. Send another email. Or call.

Think about this – someone asks you to do something in an email. How long before that email is buried beneath the avalanche of email you get every day? A week? Maybe – probably more like 2-3 days. Maybe 2-3 hours.

You aren’t saying “no.” The message is just getting lost in the noise.


Send another email.

What about letters? How long before that letter is buried beneath the other mail you get every day? A month? Maybe – probably more like 2-3 weeks. Maybe 2-3 days.

You aren’t saying “no.” The message is just getting lost in the noise.


Send another letter. Or call.


Clearly, if someone does say “no,” follow-up is inappropriate. But otherwise, send another letter. Send another email. Or call.

As I have already implied, timing is important for effective follow-up. A second letter mailed three months later is NOT a follow-up letter – it’s a completely different appeal. Same with a second email sent 3 weeks later.

To be effective, follow-up letters need to be sent within 3-5 weeks; 3-5 days for email.


For follow-up letters: Use the OUTSIDE of the envelope to draw attention to the INSIDE. Messages like “Renewal Reminder,” “Don’t Forget to Renew,” “Response Requested,” and even “We Miss You” may help someone decide to open the envelope and respond.

Letters are expensive. I’ll stipulate that. But replacing a lapsing donor with a new member can cost upwards of $150-200. Letters don’t seem quite so expensive in that context.

And for those worried about being irritating, consider that the average household receives more than 2,000 pieces of mail every year. The absence of your second (or third, or fourth) letter will not be noticed, and no one gives you extra consideration if you don’t send them. You aren’t sending follow-up mail to those who respond!


For follow-up email: The subject line is everything – use it to completely deliver the message. “Please renew your membership!” And use the person’s first name in the subject line. “David, Just a quick note to bring your renewal back to the top of your inbox.”

You already know I’m not a huge fan of email-only programs. I’ve had too many people tell me they ignore multiple email appeals, but when they get a letter, they go on-line and renew. And email-only renewal programs tend to have very low renewal rates.

So, if you’re using email, follow-up perhaps two or three times, but then send those not responding a letter (with a QR code linking to your landing page for convenience).


For phone calls: You also know that I believe we’re not using the phone enough. Phone call follow-up is not necessarily a solicitation call, though it could be. It’s a reminder call. And most of the time you will be leaving a message. Remember when you do, that it’s more likely that they have forgotten than that they have said “no.”

I noticed you haven’t renewed your membership yet, and I just wanted to draw your attention to my (letter/email) sent last week. Please take a moment to review it and call me if you have any questions.”


If you are getting 70% renewal already, bravo! Keep it up!

If not, don’t “settle” for the 45-50% nonprofit average you can read about. Follow-up!

Send another letter. Send another email. Or call.

And YES, you can keep following-up until you get to 70%.


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 jotoya courtesy Pixabay




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1 Comment
  • Creal Zearing
    Posted at 08:42h, 07 May

    Simple but helpful post, David. Thank you!