Membership Renewal Confusion

Dear Kim,

We are a grassroots membership organization working hard to diversify our funding through gifts from major donors and other individual giving. We have about 1600 members. In the last several years we have begun doing 1-2 special appeals–in addition to our regular membership renewal letters which go out on the anniversary date of the last membership gift. Often people respond to these special appeals with a gift the size of our membership dues ($35) even though their membership is not due for renewal for many more months. Should we bump their renewal date up or should we ask them to renew on what would have been their renewal? How do other organizations sort out “Membership: gifts versus other special gifts?
—So many gifts, so little time

Dear So…So,

Make sure your special appeals are clearly that, and that if people read them it is abundantly clear that you are asking for an EXTRA gift, over and above their membership. I think people are giving $35 to your special appeals not because they are confused, but because they think of you as their “$35” group. When they hear from you, they send off $35. I imagine that your special appeals reply device includes $35 as one of the choices, and that is what your donors are choosing. You should still send them a membership renewal on their anniversary of their membership. Once in awhile, a donor will be genuinely confused, or will send their membership renewal (which they did not respond to) in as a response to a special appeal. They will then call or write complaining that they have renewed. Write back and thank them and tell them it was your mistake. There are a few people who will only give to the special appeals and not to the membership renewals. As long as a person gives once a year (regardless of what they are responding to), keep them on the membership roles.
—Kim