by Bunnie Riedel, Host of Nonprofit Conversation
Some time ago, in the blog “Membership Renewal and Retention” (http://nonprofitconversation.blogspot.com/2009/01/membership-renewal-and-retention.html) I promised I would offer a sample membership renewal letter. And my Google Analytics is telling me that people are frequently searching for sample membership renewal letters, so I guess I better make good on my promise. Rather than providing a sample, I decided to provide step-by-step instructions because every nonprofit is different and it would be impossible to write a pristine one-size-fits-all letter.
Additionally, we have spent a great deal of time here discussing social media and technology, so now I’d like to advocate for good-old-fashioned-letter-in-the-mail membership renewal letters. There are a couple of reasons. Strictly sending a membership renewal via email will lower returns. People are inundated with email and the likelihood the recipient will delete the email without reading it is high. Your email may be seen as just another communiqué from the organization and easily dismissed. And while people are also inundated with postal mail, your chances are much better the recipient will add your renewal letter to their “bill” pile and write the renewal check while taking care of their usual obligations. You can do both, email the renewal letter and mail the renewal letter, that way all your bases are covered.
It is important to personalize the greeting. The address block should look like any business letter you do and the greeting should be “Dear Person’s First Name.” Example “Dear John.” If you are in a culture in which using a person’s first name is prohibited, then at least use a proper “Dear Mr. Smith.” But don’t use “Dear Member” or “Dear Supporter.” You should establish that your organization has a personal relationship with the member and that they are important to your organization and not just some anonymous check writer. Mail merging is a simple process, if your membership person doesn’t know how to do it, they need to learn.
The First Paragraph
The first paragraph must be an acknowledgement and a thank you to the member for their loyalty to your organization. Do not jump into “It’s membership renewal time!” Write a few lines thanking them for their past membership because after all, you are grateful for their membership, without it you wouldn’t have an organization.
Second and Third Paragraphs
Briefly tell them what the organization has accomplished in the past year. When I say “briefly” I mean “briefly.” Your organization may be the greatest on the planet but people do not have time to read a dissertation on its accomplishments. Personally, I am a fan of bullet points. And I am a fan of the rule of three’s (it’s actually an obsession I have). Tell me three great things you did with their membership dollars.
“Your membership enabled us to accomplish so much this year.
- We were able to beat back legislation on Capitol Hill that would have prohibited farming collectives in the Tennessee Valley. Our defeat of this legislation means that family farms will continue to thrive just as they have for over 150 years.
- We held our first-ever conference on “Why Water Matters” in Las Vegas, Nevada. Over 300 people attended the four day conference and we were able to award 50 conference scholarships to graduate students from universities throughout the country.
- We developed a media relations campaign with public service announcements for television and radio on why water conservation is so important. The “Waste Today, Thirst Tomorrow” campaign aired on over 400 television stations and 1,200 radio stations throughout the nation. The video public service announcements garnered a Telly Award as “Most Effective TV Campaign by a Nonprofit.”
We’re proud of what we’ve been able to do and we could not have done it without you!"
Now tell them what you have planned for this year. Note, I said, “this year.” Not the next two or three or five years. You need their membership commitment to accomplish even greater things in the coming year. List a few of those great things you are going to do. Again, bullet points are my preference; short, sweet, bullet points. Also show some excitement about what you have planned…you just can’t wait to get to the projects! If some of what you have planned is continuing the programs you are already doing, that’s fine, but do emphasize why those programs are so necessary and important.
Finally “The Pitch”
The pitch or closing the deal,, whatever you prefer to call it. This is not the time to be shy, ask them to renew their membership and make it urgent “Please renew your membership today!” This is the paragraph (or two) where you might even include a premium for renewing quickly, such as: “If you renew your membership in the next two weeks, we will send you our lovely low-flow shower head so you can begin to conserve water right away!” This is also the place where you can ask them to renew at a higher level or add an extra amount to their membership.
Thank them again, let them know that if they need anything they can contact you and you will be happy to assist. The closing must be from the highest officer (Executive Director) or Chair of the Board, not the membership director. Make it warm and friendly, I think “Sincerely” is just fine but you can go beyond that with a “Your partner in water conservation, Jane Doe” if you choose, just make sure it’s not cheesy.
Here are some technical points:
- Try not to go over 2 pages. I once was in a seminar in which a direct mail consultant said the appeal letter had to be 4 pages. I completely disagree. People do not have time to read 4 pages, the mail package will cost you a lot more and nowadays, people see lots of paper as being wasteful. I recommend 2 one-sided pages so it has some weight, but if your organization is highly concerned about conservation, you can do a double sided letter (not my first choice).
- Do use recycled paper and envelopes, people notice things like that.
- Include a return envelope. You don’t have to provide postage and in fact, I recommend you do not provide postage as some will view that as waste. If they really like you, they will spring for the stamp.
- Be sure the outside envelope has “Address Correction Requested.” While you have to pay the return postage, in the long run it helps keep your list clean.
- Don’t forget to include the membership application.
- Be sure the signature of the Executive Director or Chair is in blue, not black. Even while most people understand that the membership letters are computer generated, having the signature in blue makes it look more personal.
- Be sure to send a thank you note, it can be brief, but acknowledge their membership. Many organizations like to provide membership cards, you can do that, but it’s very expensive, so unless having a membership card entitles them to some discounts or special events, you don’t need to do that. A nice thank you will suffice.
In the previous post I talked about when you should mail, how often you should mail, etc. You cannot mail one time and expect good results, you just can’t. Read the Membership Recruitment and Retention post mentioned at the top of this one for a membership renewal mailing strategy.
And, please do write me if you have any questions or need assistance info at riedelcommunications dot com
Thanks for reading! Bunnie