by Sasha Daucus
Donor relations at Childcare Resources were limited when Pam King started her job there as the new Executive Director. "Letters were sent to the entire mailing list. We had no software, so we weren't able to personalize them or target them to sections of our donor base. We sent out 7,000 letters, all the same. Many donors were sporadic givers, giving once every few years, but there was no way to track giving history so it was hard to follow-up in an effective way. We were doing well considering these limitations, but I knew from a previous job how much help donor management software could be." Childcare Resources helps lower-income children receive high quality childcare.
King decided on two things to change the poor handling of their donor base-- start a membership program to turn sporadic donors into regular donors and begin using FundRaiser to refine the organization's donor management.
Dave Sumner of the San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum faced a similar situation when he arrived as Development Associate. Although SFPALM had both software and a membership program in place, neither were working well. "The membership was being neglected. Most of the information was in a database which was in bad shape and the program was unstable."
Sumner replaced it with FundRaiser Select. "FundRaiser has helped me to organize the membership records and get on a track of regular renewal notification and gift tracking." SFPALM's mission is to collect, preserve, and make available materials documenting the history of the performing arts in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Indian River Land Trust, where Melanie Jones works as the Membership and Events Coordinator, is a completely membership-based organization. Instead of donor drives, they have membership drives. For Jones, "the most important aspect of my job is knowing my members and making them feel like they are the only member in our database." Software helps her to accomplish that. "With FundRaiser, we can be as specific as we want with each donor entry. We can record the information that lets us know the interests of each member." IRLT promotes the preservation of natural communities in Indian River County, Florida.
Each of these organizations has a slightly different approach to memberships, but all three of them have in common the desire to use their membership programs to increase the loyalty of donors.
For King, at Childcare Resources of Indian River, "We decided to start calling them members to identify our dependable donors, those that give to us on a regular basis. We let them know how much we need them year-in and year-out. Membership makes people feel they are part of the team." When someone donates, they automatically become a member of Childcare Resources, with the exception of a few gifts that are clearly intended as one-time donations.
With FundRaiser also now in place, King is able to see her donor's giving history. "Now I can tell who gives every year and I am starting to see who our real donors are and that is critical."
SFPALM has both members and non-members. "A donation isn't an automatic membership. Membership indicates an additional level of loyalty. Our members support our exhibition programs and the events around those, such as the opening receptions. Also, some of our members are involved in securing higher donations, through networking. They go out of their way to bring new people in," says Sumner.
At IRLT, "We have educational newsletters and other membership updates that clarify all the benefits of protecting land in Indian River County," says Jones. "Through educating our members, we ask for their support and we depend on them to vote."
For an organization, greater donor loyalty is the primary benefit of maintaining a membership program. On the part of donors, what motivates them to become members? Again, this differs from organization to organization, and depends in large part on the mission of the organization.
For Childcare Resources, "The benefit you get is the really good feeling of knowing that you improved the life of a child," says King.
For people who join IRLT, "Membership mainly offers the benefit of the work that we do on behalf of the natural areas we work to protect. Some members see protecting land as an additional investment, essentially raising the value of their homes and businesses," says Jones.
The benefits for members at SFPALM include free admission, special invitations to regular events, and the opportunity to participate in member-only events. Last year SFPALM added North American Reciprocal Museum Association membership as part of the benefits starting at the $125 level. "That encouraged a lot of our individual members to increase their giving level," says Sumner.
These kind of specific, concrete benefits such as SFPALM offers, "do encourage people to give more. In the past year and a half, with the benefit changes we've made, we've seen a lot of regular donors increasing their level," says Sumner. Benefits also require significant management. "Once you have memberships in place, you constantly have to engage them and freshen things up."
One of the main considerations when managing any membership program, whatever the benefits, is how you handle joining, renewal and expiration dates. Some organizations have all memberships start and end at a specific time of year, say December of every year. Many other organizations have renewals happening throughout the year, depending on when a member joins.
At IRLT, "Our renewals come due every quarter," says Jones. "Everyone who joins in a certain quarter, for instance May/June/July, are all given the same renewal date, at the beginning of that quarter. That helps our organization save time and money as compared to monthly renewals."
"Right now, our next quarter is May/June/July. We'll send out a renewal letter the first week of May. If someone doesn't renew that quarter, they'll get another letter next quarter. We try to get renewal for up to a year and a half on members that give $100 dollars or more. If members have given less than $100, we still solicit them for renewal for about one year after their membership expiration. During that time they still receive newsletters or invitations, and our membership updates. The Fundraiser Select program helps us save time and money by identifying members that are up for renewal and filtering out lapsed members."
Childcare Resources solicits membership with a card that is included in mailings and the newsletter. Although all donors automatically become members, "when they complete that card it is a clear indication of donor intent. It indicates a level of interest in the organization that might go beyond a one-shot donation," says King. For renewals, she sends out two letters. "If they are due for renewal in May, I send out a letter on April 20. On June 5, I send out a second letter."
King reports to the board on all lapsed members. "I produce a list and share it with them. That way, if they know someone on the list, they try and encourage them to rejoin. Sometimes I give a lapsed donor a call just to see why they didn't renew, but we don't push it hard. We're not a pushy organization."
For renewals that occur throughout the year, special membership management features in your software are important. In FundRaiser, joining, expiration dates, and renewal letters are all handled with the membership management module of FundRaiser, which King says, "is as smooth as silk."
"FundRaiser works really well for managing membership renewals and solicitations and lapsed members," agrees Sumner.
At SFPALM, renewals are also on an annual schedule. If a person signs up in April, then they are due again the following April. "We send out renewal notices two months prior to the expiration date. The third letter is sent the month the membership expires. If that goes unanswered, then we consider them a former member. At the end of a six month period, we send them a lapsed member letter. The six month lapsed letter has brought back several of the lapsed members. Sometimes they have a bit of conscience about having let their membership lapse, and they also increase their membership level or include an additional donation," says Sumner.
For all these organizations, moving members to the next level of membership is a key consideration.
"We move people up the membership ladder by keeping them informed," says King. "We share a lot of success stories. Sometimes I'll send a letter saying, 'Here's some good stuff going on and I want to make sure that you know.' We are starting to see that it is paying off. More members are moving up the ladder, and seeing that Childcare Resources is a good place to put their money."
Something else that has worked well for Childcare Resources is smaller targeted personal mailings. "Recently, one of our board members wrote a letter herself and sent it out to 60 of her closest friends. We had a very high response rate on that, and some started at a higher level of membership. Even among the ones that did not, everyone has the capacity to move up the ladder."
To continue with the personal touch she is also starting to use house parties. "Wealthy people get so much mail every week asking for money, so you have to be special. I'm starting to think that the way to go is to have house parties."
At Indian River Land Trust, changes in membership levels are one of Jones' key indicators for the organization's health. When she creates reports, "the primary focus is trying to keep our board members aware of where our membership status is, not only financially, but in terms of levels. Reports include overall income; number of people at each level; board members that know key donors; and communities members live in. Also, if we were soliciting a new community, we want to know how many new members we gained."
Dave Sumner also emphasized the importance of watching membership levels. At SFPALM, "The most important thing is a member's giving from year to year, and whether they are increasing their membership level or including additional donations through out the year. If we see an individual member has gone up to our second membership level, to associate member, then they get put into a group to solicit to sponsor a gallery event. We include that individual in an early mailing on sponsorship before the invitation goes out."
King of Childcare Resources says, "I give the board a list of new and renewed members since the last board meeting. If one of our board members was particularly helpful in getting that new member, for instance if they wrote a note on the letter, I include that. The recognition is important. I also give figures comparing the number of people at a certain membership level this year and last year, which helps the Board feel that we're making progress. In addition, I let them know of significant changes in membership level, for instance, if someone goes from $1000 to $5000 I want them to know that."
Increasing loyalty takes time. King emphasizes the overall importance of donor retention, one of the primary reasons to have a membership program and good quality donor management software.
"Retention starts the first day. You have to work to keep every donor. Getting a donor is one thing, but keeping them is what's important. You can solicit all day everyday but it is much better to keep them, and move them up the ladder. The stewardship end of it is most important.
The software helps, too, by allowing her to track and organize information on donors. "I try really hard to keep them in my head, so if I'm at an event I try to say, thank you so much for your gift."
Jones agrees that the personal touch is the key to success. FundRaiser software helps with that. "The information in each donor record allows us to personalize our correspondence. We had a volunteer come in last week to help with a mailing. She was impressed that we had personalized the mailing and were able to cater to a particular community."
Sasha Daucus edits the FundRaiser Software newsletter, focusing on articles that help nonprofit organizations feel more comfortable with their donor management software tools. In her free time she enjoys cooking and listening to world music from the Mediterranean region.
Case study: Childcare Resources of Indian River
Case Study: Indian River Land Trust
Case study: San Francisco Performing Arts Library & Museum
How Can Memberships Benefit My Nonprofit Organization? by Sasha Daucus
Making Membership Management Easier with the FundRaiser Memberships by Larry Weaver
Overview of the Membership Module
FundRaiser Software offers non-profit organizations intuitive donor management software that is easy to learn and easy to use. Three programs, ranging from simple to sophisticated, let you choose the features you need now, while guaranteeing a built-in growth path for the future. Software flexibility, budget options, and superb technical support make FundRaiser Software uniquely adaptable to the needs of non-profit organizations - whatever their mission.