8 Tips for Improving Membership Renewal Letters and Emails
As you prepare for this year’s membership renewal campaign, be sure to take the time to review and update your renewal letter or email. For many organizations this is the key tool in your renewal toolbox. After all, unlike your newsletters or website, your renewal letter or email offers an opportunity to speak directly to your member. And since retaining members and keeping them active and engaged is critical - it might just be the most important communications piece you’ll send this year!
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you develop this year’s membership renewal letter or email.
1. Make them personal and powerful
In a recent Nonprofit Blog Carnival on non-profit email effectiveness, we suggested donor outreach emails need to be “personal and powerful” to prompt action. The same is true of membership renewal emails.
Your renewal letter or email needs to speak to each member and make them feel they have a personal connection to and an integral part of an important organization. It should be a powerful message that reminds and reinforces the value your organization brings to their personal and/or professional life. It also needs to acknowledge both the organization’s commitment to the member and the importance of his/her support.
One way to ensure you are offering up a personal touch is to step back and think about what you’d want to hear if you were a member. You could also consider involving members in the renewal letter process. Why not talk to your board, membership or communications chairs – perhaps they have some thoughts you can incorporate. You might even want to have the letter or email come directly from one of these volunteers.
2. Customize your message for added impact
Fundraising experts always advise non-profits and charities to “segment” their lists to customize their outreach to the various types of donors. Associations and other membership organizations can also use your membership data to personalize renewal emails or letters. Start the process by thinking about what sets your members apart - for example:
- Do you have a number of membership levels or categories? (e.g., student, active member, retired, affiliate, etc.)
- Do you segment your list based on membership status? (new member, active member; long-standing member, inactive/ lapsed member, former/returning member)
- Do you capture engagement data (e.g., volunteer activity; attendance at events or professional development sessions; involvement in committees or task forces; etc.)
The more you know about your members, the more you can personalize the letter or email to speak directly to them. For example, if you know that a group of members have been active on your advocacy committee or interested in an initiative, you might want to highlight the association’s success over the past year and thank and acknowledge their contributions that made this possible in their renewal letter. Alternately, if you have a student membership category, you might want to highlight specific member benefits that this group finds most beneficial (e.g., such as professional development or networking events).
You might want to consider creating separate letters or emails based on membership status, for example:
- a powerful “we miss you” message (maybe from the Board Chair?) for lapsed members,
- a personal “couldn’t do it without you” note for long-standing members
- a welcoming note for new members renewing for the first time
- a “welcome back” note for former/returning members
If you are struggling to find the best way to address a specific segment, try reaching out to a member or a volunteer who represents that group and get his/her feedback and insight.
Note for Wild Apricot users: If you are using Wild Apricot Membership Management Software, you can customize your automated renewal emails and create different versions to suit membership segments, categories or levels.
3. Make sure the salutation isn’t a show stopper!
Remember that famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire: “you had me at hello”? Well, your first two words – “Dear xxx” can have a huge impact on whether your letter or email are read or taken seriously. If you fumble the salutation, your member may never get to your wonderful prose about how important he/she is or the amazing work your organization has accomplished over the last year.
So, here are a few tips on getting the hello or welcome right:
- Never say “dear member” - remember it needs to be personal
- Dear [first name] – is probably best, but ensure your database has correct first names for all members so you don’t end up with a “Dear blank” or worse, “Dear first name”!
- Avoid using Ms., Mr., or Mrs. – since any glitch in your database can be the “kiss of death” – when a staffer or the system gets the member’s gender wrong! Mistakes like those certainly suggest you don’t know this member.
4. Show me the benefits
Receiving your renewal letter or email may have your members thinking about another line from the Jerry Maguire movie: “show me the money”. When they receive your yearly renewal letter, email or invoice, they are automatically thinking “what has my association/club done for me lately?” They are thinking about the value of membership and the benefits you’ve provided. So you need to outline the “outcomes-based benefits” you offer.
As we noted in a past blog post, your members are looking for "benefits that add value to their businesses and lives and they also look to their associations for a sense of belonging." So you need to take care in crafting your renewal communications messages to be sure they resonate with your members – and “shows them the benefits” of belonging.
As Sarah Sladek suggested in an Associations Now article a while back – How to Build Membership Relationships That Last – "People want to join your association-- and renew their memberships --when you provide services they need along with emotional connections they crave." This means that your communications need to take an "outcomes-based benefits" approach instead of simply reminding them of a "basket of products and services."
...when members join your association or renew their memberships, they want that money to pay for access to more than a directory listing and a car-rental discount. Second, your members want your association to help them solve their problems. Right now, this means providing programming and services related to helping them find jobs, make money, and feel good about their futures.
...So rather than describing a membership listing and networking as benefits, wouldn't it be better to say that membership in the association leads to business contacts that can result in new business opportunities? Better still, do some research and quantify those new business opportunities. When you can say, for instance, that 60 percent of members report their membership has resulted in a new business opportunity, you have actual proof that your membership is valuable.
Your overview of the benefits doesn’t have to be long-winded – but it does need to be relevant and outcomes-focused. If you’ve done some thinking about customizing to suit your audience, it can be a brief, bullet-point list that speaks directly to the member.
5. Make the ask urgent and honest
This is a renewal letter or email, but you don’t want to jump right in and ask them to renew in the first line. However, once you’ve made a welcoming start, and reminded your member about the benefits of belonging, then you need to “make the ask”. Of course, even if they have scanned through your email or letter, your member is waiting for “the pitch”. So make it urgent and honest - ask them to renew their membership today. And tell them how they can do this quickly and easily.
6. Make it easy for them to renew
You’ve convinced your member to renew – now be sure you make it easy for them to do so and right away! If you offer online self-service (through a membership management system), provide instructions in your letter or a link in your email, so that your member can act right away and easily renew. If you offer a variety of payment options, send them to the information via a direct link to your website.
We’re talking renewal letters and emails here, but your organization may think about renewals in terms of “renewal notices”, “renewal reminders” or even “renewal invoices”. But no matter how your process or membership management systems work, you should take the opportunity at renewal time to reach out to all of your members with a personalized message.
If your organization is using online membership management software, many of your members might have taken advantage of signing up to have membership fees automatically paid on a regular (yearly, quarterly, monthly) basis. But even though technology can save enormous time and effort with renewal administration, if members are paying through your membership management system’s recurring payments processes, it’s still important to take the opportunity to connect with members. After all, it’s a courtesy to notify them that their membership renewal is coming up and that their credit card will be charged. It’s also an opportunity to re-connect with them on a personal level as you are with your other members who are receiving the renewal letter or email.
8. Don’t forget to say thanks and set the scene for the coming year
Your renewal letter or email offers an opportunity to outline the benefits of membership and acknowledge your member’s valued support. But it can also instill some excitement for the coming year – activities, programs or events made possible by their member dues or fees.
Use your closing as the opportunity to offer a genuine note of thanks to the member. If you can, customize the closing to suit the member type or the profile of the member so that it is warm and personal – offering up that emotional connection and a sense of membership value that reminds them why they became involved with your organization in the first place.
Check out the Membership Renewal Letter Checklist.
Before you lick that envelope or hit the send button check out the Membership Renewal Letter Checklist.
For more ideas and insight on membership renewals, you can also check out these additional resources: