How one nonprofit loved their lapsed members back
Donor-centered fundraising. It’s what your program needs to be, right?
I get excited when I can share examples of how organizations are thinking more deeply about their relationship with their donors. That’s why I asked Jeff Hall, Senior Director of Philanthropy for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, if I could share a program of theirs with you.
A few years ago, Audubon wanted to do more for its most loyal members, with special recognition to members who had been with the organization for twenty or more years. They also decided to give special attention to these long time members who had let their membership lapse.
Like many resource-based conservation organizations, Audubon members receive a few perks. In addition to the newsletter, members get tangible benefits such as members-only pricing on the many trips and programs that Audubon runs, a 10% discount at the gift shop, a discount on summer camp for their kids, free admission to the Environmental Education Center and other benefits that are listed here.
Keeping loyal members
The membership renewal process starts at three months before a member’s anniversary date, with a series of follow-ups at two months and one month and a notice on their anniversary that the membership has lapsed.
Well, Audubon decided to begin a “don’t worry about it” forgiveness program for their 20 year members who hadn’t renewed their membership.
Instead of allowing their membership to lapse, each 20+ year lapsed member received a carefully handwritten note on one of Audubon’s stunning bird note cards.
In the handwritten note, Audubon thanked this loyal member for many years of support. They gently suggested that perhaps the membership renewal may have escaped their notice but not to worry. Audubon understood how important protecting birds, wildlife and their habitat was to this member.
So … because Audubon didn’t want this long time member to miss out on exciting programs and important information, they were extending the membership for another year. (Yes, for free). And they included an updated membership card.
Something unexpected happened. These lapsed members started sending in their member dues at $45, and a number of them sent larger donations, often at $100 and more.
Last year, Audubon decided to extend the program to 10+ year members.
Did it make a difference? What are the numbers, you are probably asking?
Since the program started, Audubon has mailed out about 300 handwritten note cards to lapsed members – around 15 a month. Each note is carefully crafted, so the task takes donor relations manager Sharon Cresci almost a full day each month.
Is it worth it?
50% renewed their membership.
Some wrote to say that they had lost their job or had to cut back financially. Audubon told them “don’t worry about it.”
And like the experience with the 20+ members, a surprising number of these returning members made a larger gift – a whopping 50% – with many gifts at $100. They even received a $1,000 gift!*
Think about that. In your normal appeals to renewing donors, are you seeing 25% upgrading their donation?
What makes this program work?
When you take all you know about direct mail and apply it to this mailing, the card has lots going for it as a renewal.
- The envelope is hand written and personally addressed.
- The envelope carries a live stamp – and not a flag stamp, but a specialty stamp.
- The note card format stands out from all the business mail.
- The stunning bird photo you see when you open the note card is hard to ignore and likely to be remembered.
- Members are appreciated for their commitment.
- The offer is genuinely sincere. Audubon cares about this donor for more than the value of their money.
Jeff told me, “Our long time members have made a real commitment to our organization and its mission. So why lose them because they didn’t’ send us $45? We’d rather keep them with us than to cut them off from all contact with Audubon.”
From the donor’s perspective, this program walks the talk. Members are worth more than their donation.
Now, as donor-centeredness goes, that’s priceless.
* An update. Jeff just let me know that they have now received their third $1,000 gift from that one $45 member they might otherwise have considered expired.
Have you tried a program like this with your members or donors? Our readers would love to learn from your experience.