Renewals (Donation Request Letters) That Improve Annual Giving Numbers

A Renewal can be defined as a letter or email written to an existing donor, typically as part of an overall Annual Giving program. It usually consists of multiple renewal appeals and special appeals. The goal is to renew a donor’s support annually, upgrade their gift to another level or even better… convert sporadic/one time donors into recurring monthly donors. A Renewal is essentially a donation request letter, designed to ensure that a donor “renews” their support in the coming years.

You can hire 9 Direct Marketing agencies and each will present different strategies that “guarantee” a successful Annual Giving and Renewal campaign. However, when you boil them all down, most of them will agree that these four (4) basic tactics are at the heart of every successful strategy.

1. Say thanks

Make sure you thank your donors before you ask again!

2. Be Transparent.

Tell your donors how their gifts have made a difference in the past and how you plan to use their renewed investment going forward.

3. Ask For the Gift!

If you ask a seasoned sales professional why they are successful, they’ll give you a long list of possible reasons. But if you ask for just one answer, for the golden rule, they’ll tell you to “ask for the business.” You wouldn’t believe the number of people who forget to ask for the sale.

If I have mentioned this once, I have said it several times in my blogs… don’t take your donors for granted and don’t assume they know what your organization needs. Please remember to steward your donors, tell them how they make a difference, and ask for their continued Gift with a Renewal.

For a renewal letter, it’s recommended that the ask be positioned towards the bottom of your first page and should always be repeated in the PS. Why the PS? Research has shown us that the first thing a donor does after opening the envelope is turn the letter over to see who it is from, then right after that, they read the PS. If the PS catches their interest, they will turn the letter over and read it from the beginning!

The ask could be positioned several ways, depending on which donors you are sending your Renewal to. You can also include several different types of asks in one renewal. Here are examples of different ask:

a. Renew donor commitment:

The primary goal is donor renewal. Some donors give only once a year. Others give regularly. And others send a few gifts during the year, but sporadically.

b. Renewed Gift:

Naturally, your goal with every donation request letter is also to receive a response, along with a financial gift. As mentioned above, be sure to ask for a gift in each renewal letter you mail. Thank them again for their ongoing support, reference their previous gift and let them know how the donation helped make a difference. The most effective renewal letters are those that ask for funds for a specific need, usually a project.

c. Upgraded gift:

Ask your donors to renew their support at a higher level. The best way to approach this ask is to recognize previous support and how it helped you achieve defined goals/targets. This approach helps donors feel you are stewarding their gifts effectively and that they are truly helping make a difference. In this case, you have the opportunity to increase donor support by instilling the feeling you can do more if they contribute more. “I am inviting you to renew your commitment by 10 percent this year, to help us care for 6 more children, build 2 more schools or clean 7 miles of a river”

Please note, that all charities and non-profit organizations are worthy, that’s why you believe in the mission and mandate of your organization. So do yourself a favor, help your organization stand out by telling donors how they are helping you make a difference. Tie their support to your programs, services, and measurable deliverables. Every organization has to keep the “lights on”, “the Front doors open” or “operate for the next 12 months”. Donors hear this all the time and they aren’t inspired by operations talk. Rather, donors want to hear about how you’re making a difference and whom you’re helping.

d. Conversion to monthly giving:

If you don’t have a monthly giving program, now is a great time to start! Annual renewal letters are a perfect way for you to convert your annual givers into monthly givers. Just think about how great it will be to have sustainable revenue from donors who send you a gift each month, automatically taken from their bank account or credit card. Your primary goal is to persuade annual givers to join your monthly giving program. Spell out the benefits that both the donor and your organization enjoy from monthly giving. As an easy test, you could use your postscript (your PS at the bottom of each letter) to invite annual givers to join your monthly giving program or, include a buck slip or lift note in your letters, describing your monthly giving program and inviting donors to sign up.

4. The Golden Rule to a successful renewal is to “Test”!

Testing is an important component of fundraising. Without testing, it’s impossible to make a bias-free decision about what is working, and what’s not working. Below I have compiled a list of items to test. But when testing these, remember to be careful, don’t test everything below at once. If you do you won’t know which one truly impacted your response rate or increased your average gift.

Things to tests:

  • Test the envelope (size, plain, graphics, captions, open face, closed face, etc.) to increase open rates
  • Test stories, messages
  • Test gift grid
  • Test Signatories (volunteer Chair, CEO, Field staff, Program staff?
  • Test Premiums vs. non premiums (higher response rate, but the average gift may be suppressed)
  • Reply coupons vs. links to an online donation form designed for the Renewal

The bottom line is that retention is a lot easier and less expensive than acquisition.

For those of you who want to measure the success of your Renewal appeals, remember average response rates for renewal appeals are 6% – 12%, when sent to active current donors, according to Direct Marketing guru Mal Warwick. Use this as a benchmark when evaluating the success of your appeal, but don’t forget to look at your previous numbers as well.


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Image 1, Gene Han

Image 2, fred one litch

Image 3: Tom H