Back to Basics: Membership Renewals

All of the hard work that you do to acquire new members is effectively useless without a solid renewal strategy. In this post, we’re going back to basics on membership renewals. Whether you are new to membership or are a seasoned veteran, here are the four T’s to keep in mind when planning and executing your membership renewal strategy.

1. Timing

Questions to ask: Are we sending out renewal reminders early enough? Do we have enough renewal touches in our renewal cycle? Are we sending out the last renewal reminder after members’ expiration dates to remind them to renew?

We all know that timing is everything! We find that successful renewal programs have a four month window during which reminders are sent. These renewal touches generally start about two months prior to expiration with one reminder sent each month through the month after expiration, for a total of four reminders.

2. Tracking

Questions to ask: Are we tracking renewal effort results? Are we tracking renewal rates by touch? Are we looking at renewal rates yearly for mature renewal rate?

Tracking your renewal efforts is very important. The first metric to know is your renewal rate. Knowing your renewal rate allows you to plan ahead and create accurate budget forecasts. Additionally, tracking by renewal touch can help you see the efficacy of your renewal reminders. Tracking by touch allows you to see how each renewal touch is performing, and it can show you if you need to add another renewal touch or if you are sending out renewals too early. Finally, you can get a matured renewal rate by seeing how many people still haven’t renewed after a year and comparing those numbers to the original renewal numbers at the start of the cycle.

3. Touches

Question to ask: Are you sending out multichannel touches?

Successful membership renewal programs utilize a multichannel approach. Mailed letters should have accompanying emails that mirror the look and feel of the mailed reminders. These emails are often sent out a week or so before the mailed reminders are sent. Additionally, there are digital marketing opportunities for renewals—such as uploading your list to Facebook and sending targeted renewal reminder ads to your expiring members—this can give your renewal program an added lift!

4. Testing

Question to ask: Are you testing your current strategy to maximize your renewal returns?

Just like we test direct mail letter packages in acquisition, we should also be testing renewals. Do we need a four-color outer envelope or will a two-color design work? Are we sending the right messaging about the support our members give us with their membership renewal, or should we focus more on benefits? Do we need a full letter package for each mailing, or will a postcard work for one or more mailings? Each of these can offer testing opportunities for your renewal packages. And remember: test only one aspect against the control each test for the clearest results!

Do you need help creating the best renewal strategy and implementation for your program? Just fill out the form below to find out how we can assist you in your most successful renewal strategy yet!

Back to Basics: Membership Direct Mail Acquisition

Using direct mail for acquisition is a very viable channel for attracting new members. In this post, we’re going back to basics on direct mail acquisition. Whether you are new to using direct mail or are a seasoned veteran, following are the five key things to keep in mind when executing a direct mail acquisition campaign.


The purpose of direct mail acquisition is to reach a new audience and ask them to join your organization. You should utilize a mix of three types of lists:

  • In-house non-member prospects, such as camp registrants, event ticket purchasers and special exhibition ticket buyers, as well as lapsed members
  • Traded lists from other like-minded, local cultural organizations
  • Rental lists, often subscribers or buyers of magazines or catalog items


Successful direct mail acquisition mailings should include an attractive offer. A 10% off discount on the new memberships, premium item offered as part of the membership purchase, additional free months applied to the membership or another exclusive offer are proven options to entice recipients to join.


Many membership direct mail campaigns are full-color packages and contain a full-color outer envelope, letter, brochure, reply device (often attached to the letter) and return envelope. The envelopes and letter should include attractive images of the organization’s offerings, such as animals or artifacts, as well as images of benefits offered to the prospective member, such as event photos or special access tours.


Performing matchback analysis on direct mail campaigns is a great way to show the success of a campaign. A matchback analysis compares the entire mail file to all membership transactions that occurred since the mailing (or since the first mailing when there were multiple mailings in one campaign). Any member that joined or rejoined and received the mailing should be attributed to the success of the campaign—even if they did not reply directly to the mailing or use the provided promo code when purchasing their membership. Since many people that receive a direct mail piece will purchase online or wait until their next visit to your organization to join, you cannot rely on mailed responses and promo codes alone. A successful direct mail acquisition campaign generally has a response rate between 0.5% and 1.5%.


Finally, continuous testing is crucial to successful direct mail campaigns. Through testing, you can identify what works best for attracting new members to your organization. A/B testing is one of the least complicated ways to test—requiring only a control package and the test package to be mailed, each to a segment of the mail file. Some various testing options include:

  • Full-color (referred to as four-color) versus two-color outer envelopes
  • Package sizes (e.g., a #10 envelope versus a 6×9 envelope)
  • Offer testing (e.g., 10% discount versus $10 off discount or guest passes versus event passes)
  • Imagery on the envelopes and letter (e.g., family images versus artifacts images)
  • Messaging (e.g., value versus experience messaging in the letter)

Testing works best when only one element is being tested so that results are clear. Additional testing can be completed in subsequent mailings. For example, let’s assume that artifact imagery was the “winning package” after testing imagery of families versus imagery of artifacts. The winning artifact package could then be tested against another image or you could choose a different element such as package size to test. Direct mail testing helps you learn about your marketing and helps your team better target your audience.

Direct mail may seem “old school” to some, but it is still the backbone of acquisition programs and is even more powerful when paired with email and digital campaigns with the same messaging and creative as the direct mail campaign.

Make this powerful medium work for your program!

Need help on your next direct mail acquisition campaign? Just fill out the form below to find out how we can assist you in developing your most successful direct mail campaign yet!

Success Story: Lions, Tigers and Amazing Results for Hogle Zoo!

In 2018, Utah’s Hogle Zoo partnered with Membership Consultants in order to create a fresh approach to their membership initiatives as well as their creative focus and messaging. Their goal was to improve results in their direct mail acquisition and renewal efforts.

In celebration of the Zoo’s new red panda exhibit, we created a fun, animal-focused campaign that invited people to meet the Zoo’s latest additions. The Zoo also identified their “Big Six” animals of focus for their conservation efforts.

This enhanced focus on membership in the creative strategy told the story of Utah’s Hogle Zoo and the animals in their care, resulting in amazing outcomes for the Zoo’s membership program.

The direct mail campaign was sent to 225,000 households and was supported by an email series that helped boost overall results and the bottom line. The campaign results exceeded projections while resulting in …

  • A 1.26% response rate
  • 3,722 new/renewed members
  • A $175 average gift
  • More than $651,000 in membership revenue
  • A $5.22 ROI for every dollar spent

Additionally, the overall net revenue of the program exceeded the prior year’s results by $189,000!

Need help with enhancing your new member acquisition strategy? Contact us for more information on how you can increase your direct mail results!

100 Tips for Revolutionizing Your Membership and Development Program

By Sheldon Wolf and Dana Hines

1. Have an annual and a longer-term Development Plan. Have this plan (based on Board participation) approved by the Board.

2. Define success to include cultivation and stewardship.

3. Know your marketplace. Who is your competition? What are they doing?

4. Read donor lists. Collect playbills. Read donor walls in libraries, hospitals, wherever names are listed. Having money is not enough. Who has charitable intent?

5. Know your Board? Who has greater capacity?

6. Seek out a Board member who will challenge other Board members to increase their gifts.

7. Use the nominating process to introduce the expectation of high giving levels.

8. Expand the circle of people invested in your museum by adding non-Board members to your committees.

9. Create ad hoc committees of non-Board members.

10. A major gift named after the founder or a key generous donor allows the message to be “Join this chain of philanthropy that extends back to our very beginnings.”

11. Draft a letter for Board members to send to their personal and business contacts.

12. The words, “Join me,” are extremely powerful.

13. The words, “Join us,” are extremely powerful. 100% participation by your Board in your campaigns is essential.

14. The more personal the approach, the more effective it will be.

15. Cultivate long-term relationships with donors to the collection.

16. Join the most important civic groups in your community. Be seen as a “player.”

17. Be visible at other cultural institutions and major community events.

18. Foundation executives are people. Meet them.

19. Every grant proposal tells a story. What need will you address? Why now? Why you?

20. Use special events to cultivate new relationships.

21. Thank special event guests as they enter, during the event, and as they leave.

22. Engage your staff and Board at events to make sure strategic conversations occur with the most important people.

23. At events, seek out people who are standing by themselves.

24. At a special dinner, your Board Chair and your CEO should be at different tables. Have two head tables rather than just one.

25. Read your local newspaper.

26. Use your communications to donors/members to help them feel like insiders. Give them information about your exhibitions and programs they can use to “show off.”

27. Invite special prospects to see recent acquisitions.

28. Once you have a constituency, and a sense that the organization is here to stay, mention planned giving in annual report, newsletter, online, etc.

29. Most planned gifts are bequests. You don’t have to be an expert in everything else.

30. Create a planned gift advisory group of experts from your community.

31. If you have a community fund in your area, work with the people there.

32. A capital campaign is an outcome of good strategic planning.

33. What is your Museum’s value for the community? Will changes in the program make it even more valuable?

34. Stress community in your communications.

35. Use photographs strategically. If your museum serves a poorer constituency, be careful with black-tie images.

36. While your annual report might acknowledge the past, use it to inspire donors about the future.

37. With your Board, create a Development Policy that addresses how/when you will accept gifts, who must approve them, who acknowledges what, etc.

38. The “public campaign” is the most costly part of your capital campaign with the smallest return, so hold off as long as you can.

39. Don’t let “public campaign” be an excuse for your Board and solicitors to stop doing their work.

40. Development must be included in marketing decisions (especially products=exhibitions).

41. Ask donors for feedback and advice.

42. Corporate philanthropy hardly exists anymore. It’s all about marketing.

43. If there are not enough people coming in the doors, development goals will not be reached.

44. Look at the relationship between admission fees and membership. When does membership become an offer that cannot be refused?

45. Develop a Membership Plan.

46. Your emphasis on money (we want more cash from our members) vs. people (we want more members) may lead you to different strategies.

47. A plan helps you stay on track and fend off other people’s ideas that will take you off track of what you are trying to achieve.

48. Include others in your membership planning

49. Have a monthly goal for number of members to join, renew, and a revenue goal, too. Check to see if you hit your goal and figure out why you did or did not meet goal.

50. Keep an eye on the competition. But don’t copy anyone else’s campaigns unless you know how it performed (don’t copy a failure)

51. Pick three top goals for your membership program and spend the year achieving those goals

52. Test offers – a premium vs. a discount.

53. Know your audience. Who is your typical member? Plan accordingly.

54. Ask people to join

55. Tell people why they should join your organization. Tell people why you deserve their support – quantify what you do

56. Tell people what you want them to do – be explicit. I want you to upgrade to $150, I want you to renew at the Patron level, renew your membership by December 31

57. Sell memberships face to face.

58. Train your frontline admissions and sales staff.

59. Develop an incentive program to get front line people to sell memberships

60. Don’t abandon direct mail – it still works!

61. Do letter packages to ask for money, not self mailers.

62. Code all sources of new members – you need to know what is working!

63. Put your museum’s name and address on each piece of the mailing.

64. Track the number and source of new members

65. Track renewals by each mailing – know what your response rate is for each contact.

66. Combine the methods of asks and track each method – phone, email, direct mail

67. Lapsed members are gold – solicit them often

68. Segment you lapsed member campaigns by year – learn how far back you can mail or email and still be able to recapture Members

69. Offer a premium to get people to join, renew, upgrade or give to the annual fund

70. Do not abandon the phones. Telemarketing works to renew memberships, get lapsed people to join or to get members to give a second gift

71. Run reports at month’s end

72. Know your renewal rate

73. Track numbers of renewals sent by each renewal contact. Use this to figure out your renewal rate

74. Stay in close touch with members. Email, phone or visit with members often

75. Survey your members at least every three years in a comprehensive, professional survey.

76. Survey lapsed members at the same time and compare the results.

77. Raise your dues every three years

78. Figure out how much it is costing you to service each member – make sure you are charging at least twice that amount in your lowest level membership category.

79. Evaluate your membership categories. Do you have too many? If so revamp and make easy, simple categories.

80. Know your average gift, response rate and cost per dollar raised on each campaign that you perform.

81. Learn from failures. Evaluate each campaign and find a gem of wisdom in each one.

82. Take risks, try something new.

83. Experiment with colors, shapes, formats.

84. Ask your members/donors to give in other ways. Annual fund, upgrade, tributes, give a membership gift, special project. Don’t be afraid to ask again and again!

85. Ask for more.

86. Keep stats on everything. Keep files to give to the person who take over after you leave. Don’t leave them in a lurch!

87. Share information with your peers – at your organization or at others. Being secretive doesn’t really pay off.

88. Share the names of key donors and prospects with the person who answers the phone for the Director.

89. Thank people profusely!

90. Evaluate often. The reality around you is changing often.

91. Remember to thank your staff, your volunteers, your Board.

92. Schmooze. Darcy Rezac in his book, The Frog and the Prince, wrote that schmoozing is “Discovering what you can do for someone else.”

93. Continually move from transactional to relational.

94. Survey people who are involved. Survey people who are not involved.

95. Involve the entire staff in your Plan. Everyone is meeting people and/or engaging with the public and/or improving your program.

96. Support your museum at the highest level you can. Challenge others on staff to give. (“Join me.”)

97. Hire staff with good people skills. The technology can be taught.

98. Your most important skill is listening.

99. Celebrate victories – not matter how large or small.

100. Pat yourself on the back every day.


101. Have a membership and development presence on Facebook and social media

102. Mirror your mail campaigns with a simultaneous, similarly branded email request

103. Have a JOIN tab on your Facebook page

104. Don’t abandon mailed asks (still the most important driver of giving) for electronic only asks

105. Don’t forget the members or donors you don’t have email addresses for.

106. Make email collection a priority with every contact

107. Host Facebook and social media contests and engagement to involve, excite and Create buzz – and make sure there is a way to collect name and addresses

108. Create branded landing pages for each of your campaigns that mirror the brand of the mail or email campaigns

109. Make sure you are in control of your communication schedule with your members/donors

110. Make friends with your organization’s marketing and IT teams – to get the support your campaigns and communications need

Sheldon Wolf


AdvancementCompany, LLC

806 Pleasant Avenue

Wyndmoor, PA 19038


Dana S. Hines

President & CEO

Membership Consultants

3868 Russell Blvd.

St. Louis, MO 63110

314-771-4664 ext 105

314-771-2759 fax

Successful Marriage: Membership and Marketing!

In the Zoo and Aquarium world there has long been a debate on where Membership “belongs.”   Marketing or Development?  And every time a poll is taken, it always seems to be a split decision.  No matter where your organization comes down on in this poll, there needs to be a very cozy relationship between Membership and Marketing.

At the 2012 AZA National Conference, the message that seemed to run through all of the Membership sessions what to make sure there is a close working connection with your Marketing Department.

In too many organizations we still see the silo mentality, where one department has blinders on and doesn’t cross the line with other departments in planning, communications and in implementing the activities of their own department.  Here are a few examples of projects and ways of thinking and planning that will help ALL departments be more successful:


  • Membership usually pays for the mailed newsletter, but often can’t get “real estate” it its own publication – be sure that there is always a member and donor news page in the newsletter.  And, if there are promotions going on in Membership or Development, make sure those activities are highlighted – like Adopt campaigns, Annual Fund Appeal, Gift Membership Appeal.
  • The same goes for website and Facebook pages – make sure Membership has a tab on the Facebook page – people will join from the page, especially since people like to stay on the page and don’t have to jump over to a web site.
  • eNewsletters are another opportunity to get everyone on the same page. Plan for the eNews to members to have messages that relate to them – which may mean eNewsletters to the public and members that have some unique differences.


  • Sit down with Marketing and Membership – map out your promotions for the year, get on the other department’s schedule, make sure you are not working at cross purposes, get on their calendar, be sure to get those tweets, Facebook entries and banner ads planned for when your major membership drive is happening.
  • Have Membership be part of the Marketing Departments planning sessions and Marketing sit in on Membership’s planning meetings to make sure you are covering for each other – AND get everyone’s brain power to work for each other.


  • Membership direct mail campaigns work the best when they have the support of advertising.  And the campaigns work the very best when a marketing message and graphics work in tandem.  Membership works months ahead of other people’s schedules especially for graphics – so get everyone working ahead instead of last minute!

In summary, a well oiled, non siloed relationship between Membership and Marketing is a perfect marriage for everyone!

Membership Acquisition – 25th Anniversary Perspectives

Membership Consultants celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2012! To commemorate that milestone we will take on 25 membership topics – looking back and looking forward – presenting a topic each week until the end of our anniversary year via our blog. We invite you to celebrate with us and weigh in on your membership experiences and opinions.  Here is Topic #2 – Membership Acquisition…

What are your best sources of new members? Direct mail, on-site sales, member-get-a member campaigns? Can you quantify what percent of new members come from what source? If not, get counting!

Having a quarter century perspective on membership can be an interesting place to be. And thinking back even before the start of Membership Consultants to my early days as a membership manager, direct mail was definitely our primary source of new members without question. In fact, the program I served at a botanical garden far outpaced all other organizations in our city with our membership totals simply because our garden and our director was an early adopter of the use of direct mail way back in the 1970’s! He saw it as a scientific experiment – which it still is today.  In those days, direct mail accounted for 60% to 70% of our new members. Today, direct mail probably accounts for 30% to 50% of most viable organizations’ new members. But direct mail IS still a very viable source of new memberships – it is still targeted, timely and YOU control it – you are not waiting for people to come to you! But it may DRIVE people to you in other ways – as in to visit you in person and join at that time. Or to “visit” your online and join in that way. Direct mail is definitely not dead!

On–site sales at a visitation-based organization or sales at the point of purchase for an association (such as when people sign up for your annual convention) has most likely taken over first place from direct mail. On-site sales can account for 40% to 60% of new member sales for some organizations. We have gotten much bolder at asking people to join. Being direct, or in-your-face, is the best way to get a new member. If you have a prospect before you, simply ASK them to join! This method of getting new members is usually the most cost effective – often with a cost per dollar raised of just $.25 to $.50, as compared to direct mail, which may cost $1.00 to $1.50 to raise a dollar.

Other methods of acquiring new members might include using your existing members to bring you new members – often called ‘refer a member’, ‘member-get-a-member’ or a gift membership program.  In fact, this is exactly how most membership programs started. Ladies who lunch would ask their friends to teas and encouraged them to join. Board members of an organization would ask their peers to support their causes – the person-to-person ask. Today these efforts are still alive online, such as when runners in a marathon get their friends to join an organization in support of their fundraising event. Gift memberships, for certain types of membership organizations, are also a viable source of new members. Friends like to share their favorite places with one another, and giving a gift membership is a great way to make sure you will experience your favorite place with your friends. These referral and gift sources can account for another 10% to 20% of your membership totals.

Email campaigns are probably best used to recapture lapsed members or get people with whom you already have a relationship to join or rejoin. After all, if you didn’t already have a relationship, you wouldn’t have the person’s email address, and an email appeal without a relationship is just SPAM, right? That is not to say that there aren’t email campaigns to strangers; the results are just infinitesimal.

There are many types of special projects and promotions that organizations try to get new members. Some work, some are trial and error, but most new members come from one of the tried and true tactics described above.

Know your sources! Figure out where your members are coming from. Then crank up the best producing acquisition activities and start growing!

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to join in, we would like to see your comments.

Clients Win Top Honors in Second Annual MC Awards

Clients Win Top Honors in Second Annual MC Awards

It’s the Awards season, and Membership Consultants is rolling out the red carpet to its clients with exceptional performance in 2010!

Membership Consultants celebrates the achievements of all its clients and is delighted to announce the second annual MC Awards.  In a field demanding so many hats and with relatively so little accolades, our hats are off to you!


Direct Mail – The New York Botanical Garden

Membership Consultants was pleased to serve The New York Botanical Garden with direct mail and membership planning services in 2010.  Both projects achieved noteworthy results with the direct mail campaigns producing significant results worthy of praise and accolade!

Direct mail was utilized for a series of spring acquisition campaigns, a first-ever dedicated membership upgrade campaign, and a three-pronged approach to the calendar year-end annual appeal campaign.  In each instance, the campaigns were successful in attracting more gifts and more dollars than the previous year’s efforts.

The acquisition campaigns featured a return to a full letter package from a self-mailer.  The upgrade campaign focused on the Garden’s important mission of understanding and preserving our natural world and asking members to increase their commitment to the garden.  A total of 58 members accepted that challenge, moving into the upper levels of membership support.  Finally, the year-end appeal used a three mail drop strategy with increased personalization, more targeted segmentation, and increased asks to significantly increase the dollars raised and the numbers of gifts generated.

Congrats to the Garden staff for this wonderful year of direct mail success!


On-Site Sales – Saint Louis Art Museum

The magnificent Saint Louis Art Museum will soon be even more so! It is in the midst of a 200,000+ square foot expansion designed by world renowned architect, David Chipperfield.  But even during a construction year, the museum’s membership staff remained committed to aggressive membership sales through the use of professional membership sales staff supplied by Membership Consultants.  Working only weekends during two major exhibits, a total of 969 memberships were sold, generating more than $63,000 in membership revenues.  All at a free museum!

The Saint Louis Art Museum continues its on-site sales success, with an 8 year history of 9,975 memberships sold and $621,217 of membership revenues from selling memberships in a personal, face to face fashion that highlights the benefits of membership and the benefits of supporting a wonderful art venue.

Our congratulations and best wishes to the Museum and staff as membership support grows right along with the new expansion!


Progress Award – St. Louis County Library Foundation

Progress comes to organizations of all sizes and ilk.  Consider the St. Louis County Library Foundation.  The Foundation supports the library system that serves all of suburban St. Louis.  Funds raised provide for teen centers, promotes literacy and hosts the best collection of live author events in the country!

With just 300 members two years ago, the Foundation has more than tripled the size of its membership program to 1,094 members currently.  By developing wonderful benefits and events, creating great offers to new members and by utilizing the on-site sales staff of Membership Consultants at its author events, the progress has been amazing!

Congratulations to the Library Foundation and its small, hard working staff on their impressive membership progress and growth!


Membership Audit and Planning Award – Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

In 2008 the staff of the Happy Hollow Park and Zoo embarked upon a membership audit and planning session with Membership Consultants in preparation for the closing, renovation and reopening of the beloved Park and Zoo.  Happy Hollow holds a special place is the hearts of generations of San Jose residents, so the staff’s top priority was to careful plan how to keep its 8,500 loyal members occupied, entertained and belonging during the 9 month closure – a major challenge.

Fast forward to the fall of 2010 and the grand reopening of the new Happy Hollow Park and Zoo… not only did the “Bridge Membership” keep people on the membership rolls, the grand reopening of the fabulous new animal exhibits and child oriented fun park managed to pack in a whopping 25,000 members!

The moral of this story is that planning pays. And so does creativity, perseverance, sleepless nights and long work days.  Congrats to the staff of the Happy Hollow Park and Zoo for one of the best membership plan implementation efforts ever!


Telemarketing Award – Woodland Park Zoo

Some people think telemarketing is a dirty word… but the folks at Woodland Park Zoo know better, because using the phone is a special opportunity for two-way, personal dialogue with members that traditional mail and e-mail can not provide.

Incorporating a telemarketing campaign in 2010 resulted in improved lapsed recapture and renewal rates, and a thriving annual fund campaign, all with exceptionally high credit card rates that translate to 100% fulfillment and increased profitability.  With this success over the phone, it was apparent the Zoo has earned a great level of member loyalty and satisfaction.  The conversations held during this campaign helped to strengthen it!

From the standpoints of both membership revenue and relations, these campaigns reached new heights, thanks to the strategic use and personal touch of the telemarketing services provided by Membership Consultants.  Congrats to the savvy membership team at Woodland Park Zoo!

We’re giving a standing ovation to all of the award winners for these successful efforts and we applaud our clients everywhere who deliver amazing performances, day in and day out, to keep the membership world going ‘round!

Your Friends at Membership Consultants,

Dana, Debbie, Karen, Michelle, Toni, Stephen & Doris

Here are the awardees from 2009:

2009 Performance Award:

Forest Park Forever


2009 Progress Award: 

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library Foundation


2009 Benchmark Award: 

The Art Institute of Chicago


2009 Planning Award: 

Old Salem Museums & Gardens


2009 Upgrade Award: 

Santa Barbara Zoo


2009 On-site Sales Award: 

The Field Museum


2009 Direct Mail Award: 

Denver Zoo