Writing Renewal Letters that Raise More Money

Writing Renewal Letters that Raise More Money

 

13 February 2024

 

By David Allen, Development for Conservation

 

Those of you who have followed me or followed this blog over the years will recognize that I am a disciple of the “longer letters raise more money” cult. I’m planning to go off on the topic again next week. But this week, I want to punctuate that larger topic by leading with the exception:

Renewals

 

Renewals are different. They are structured differently and written such that three simple messages come through easily and quickly:

How long the recipient has been a member;

How much they gave last year; and

How much you are asking that they give this year.

 

Unlike recruitment and appeal letters, renewal letters aren’t complicated. They are short and to the point. That’s because the tone of the letter is one of expectation and assumption.

Your organization already represents one of the causes that meets their personal values and priorities. They gave last year and the year before. In fact they’ve given about this time every year since the 1990s.

It’s time to “renew.”

 

We don’t need to overly complicate renewal letters with facts and figures and accomplishments and long-winded explanations of new projects. We don’t need pictures or graphics. They already know. They already want to give again. They don’t need to be convinced again from scratch. They are already “sold.” They just need you to make it easy.

 

The letter should be warm and personable. It should be personalized. It should list board members and 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 sheet of paper, perhaps using both front and back.

 

It is good practice to rewrite your renewal letters at least once each year, and February is a great time to do that. Good renewal letters written now should last through the end of the year with only minor changes to the first paragraph. Touch upon the theme you’ve decided upon for the year. Tell a short story.

And regarding the ask: the majority of your donors gave less than $100 last year. Asking for $100 this year (in a first renewal letter) is not unfair, and if you do so, the effort will return a great deal more money than asking for the same amount, a lesser amount, or an unspecified amount. (Hold your nose and trust me on this one.)

I hope it is obvious, but just in case it isn’t … you should ask in the first letter for a renewal gift just a bit higher than what they gave last year. So for donors who gave MORE than $100 last year, ask for $150, or $250, or $500 – you get the idea. This $100 ask recommendation is ONLY for those donors who gave less than $100 last year.

 

David Allen
Member Since 2012

Dear David,

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 helped sustain Land Trust through your annual membership contributions. When the Smiths were ready, Land Trust was there. On behalf of everyone here at Land Trust, I want to say thank you! so much for your membership support.

Please renew at this time. Help Land Trust be there for the next landowner who wants to protect their land.

Last year you renewed your membership with a generous gift of $50. Thank you so much!

This year, 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.

And thank you in advance for your continued support!

Sincerely,

 

Executive Director

P.S. Thank you for considering a gift of $100 or more to support land conservation in [State or Region]!

 

Should you invite people to give online? – Absolutely. You might even include a QR code that will take them to a renewal landing page. But be careful that the landing page does not undermine the request you’ve made in the letter. For example, don’t ask for $500 and then send someone to a landing page that starts with $35. You will need a different landing page for every ask denomination. That’s OK. It’s not hard, and you have time – it’s only February!

 

So now that you’ve written one, write two more along the same themes. (Donors responding to the first letter will not receive the second or third.)

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. And again, be sure to mention what they gave last year. “In 2023, you contributed $50 as your membership gift. Please consider a gift of $100 or more this year.”

 

The first letter can be sent a month before their renewal month. The second can be mailed in their renewal month.

And a third letter can be mailed a month later. This time, the message is all about not letting their membership lapse. The language is just a bit stronger and more urgent.

 

David Allen
Member Since 2012

Dear David,

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 $50. Please consider a similar amount this year.

Thank you in advance for your continued support!

 

Sincerely,

 

Executive Director

P.S. Thank you for considering a gift to renew your support of land conservation in [State or Region]!

 

Also:

  • Use at least 12-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 are distracting
  • Keep it to one sheet of paper – use the back if needed
  • Separate the three letters by four to five weeks
  • Track the number and percentage response to each letter and average gift for year-to-year comparisons

 

This routine should work regardless of your renewal frequency. Do you renew everyone at the same time each year? Twice a year? Quarterly? Monthly? Keep the letters short and follow-up relatively quickly to get to a 70-75% renewal rate.

Can you accomplish the same results using only email messages. Frankly, I’ve not seen it happen. And I’ve been told more than once that a donor found it really easy to ignore multiple email renewal notices, but responded right away when they received a letter. Letters simply carry more weight.

I think that you SHOULD send email. But send it in addition to letters, not instead of letters.

 

I’d love to hear about your experience. Leave me your stories (and your questions) in the comments below.

 

Cheers and Have a Good Week!

-da

 

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 Annette Meyer courtesy Pixabay

 

 

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4 Comments
  • Jenny Hansell
    Posted at 15:34h, 13 February Reply

    Hi David, we don’t have “memberships” – we eliminated them years ago, feeling like they created a sort of ceiling – you join at the $100 level and you’ve done your part for the year, kind of thing, so we just have donors now. So is there another way to say “your membership has expired” if people aren’t actually members?
    And re the AI advice. My first response is “GAH – horrible I don’t want to read it!” and my second response is, reluctantly, oh, OK, I guess.” I actually have used Chat GPT a few times – I had it write an executive summary of my strategic plan draft, and it did a decent job.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 20:04h, 13 February Reply

      I think “membership language” is the language of loyalty and renewal of commitment, and I think people respond to it. Even in donor surveys sent to organizations that do not have memberships, people report that their relationship with the organization is “member.” The language is significantly superior to anything else out there. The best alternatives I’ve seen use multiple appeals – up to four each year. If someone responds to any one of them, they are eliminated from the following appeal mailing. (If a donor responds to every appeal they receive, they only get two each year.) The downside of this approach is the need to create four separate appeal packages – four-page letters that make the case for giving from scratch each time. I think that if you are getting 70-75% year-over-year renewal, the system you are using is working. But if not, I will always recommend returning to “membership.”

      Thank you for the response!

      -da

  • Robert Ross
    Posted at 07:13h, 13 February Reply

    I’ve been using the Gemini Artficial Intelligence bot to review my ASKS. Here’s what it thinks could improve yours David: **Suggested improvements to the letter:**

    **1. Stronger Opening:**

    * Begin with a more engaging and compelling opening sentence that captures the reader’s attention and sets the stage for the rest of the letter. For example:

    > “Imagine a future where the natural beauty of our lakeshore remains unspoiled, a haven for wildlife and a source of peace and tranquility for generations to come. This vision is within reach, thanks to the generosity of members like you.”

    **2. Personalize the Impact:**

    * Share a specific example of how the donor’s previous support has made a tangible difference in land conservation efforts. This could be a story about a particular property that was protected or a project that was funded thanks to their contribution.

    * For instance:

    > “Your generous gift last year helped us secure a conservation easement on the Smith family’s property, ensuring that this beautiful lakeshore will remain undeveloped and open to the public for years to come.”

    **3. Emphasize the Urgency:**

    * Create a sense of urgency by highlighting the importance of acting now to protect land before it is lost to development. Use phrases like “time is running out” or “we need your help now more than ever” to convey the need for immediate action.

    **4. Offer a Clear Call to Action:**

    * Make it easy for the donor to respond by providing a clear call to action. Include a pre-addressed and stamped envelope or a link to an online donation form.

    * For example:

    > “Please use the enclosed envelope to renew your membership today. Your generous gift will make a real difference in protecting our precious natural resources.”

    **5. Express Gratitude:**

    * Thank the donor multiple times throughout the letter for their past and continued support. Expressing gratitude shows that you value their contribution and that their gift is making a difference.

    **6. Proofread Carefully:**

    * Ensure that the letter is free of grammatical errors and typos. A polished and professional-looking letter will make a better impression on the donor.

    **Overall, the letter is well-written and effectively communicates the importance of land conservation. By incorporating these suggested improvements, you can make the letter even more persuasive and increase the likelihood of receiving a renewed gift from the donor.**

    • David Allen
      Posted at 07:55h, 13 February Reply

      It’s interesting being on the receiving end of an AI critique. Several of the comments are relatively generic and (I believe) already present in the examples I provided. The others are well-taken and appreciated. That said, the major point of the post – that renewal letters are different than other types of fundraising appeal letters – should not be lost. Asking someone to “renew” is different than asking someone to “give.” In that sense, “Imagine a future …” might be a better opening for an appeal letter (IMHO) than a renewal letter.

      Regardless, I appreciate the larger point that you are making as much or more. AI can be used creatively and helpfully in making fundraising letters of all kinds more effective. It’s a brave new world out there.

      Thank you so much for the comment!

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