Audubon Soci­ety of Rhode Island: spe­cial recog­ni­tion of long-time donors

Exhibited by
May 12, 2013
Medium of Communication
Direct mail
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

The Audubon Society of Rhode Island have taken a lot of time and trouble to show their donors that they understand and care for them. They have also taken a huge risk by giving away free membership. This risk and attitude have paid off with enviable results.

Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

Name of exhibitors

Gayle Gifford and Jeff Hall

A few years ago, Audubon wanted to do more for its most loyal members, with special recognition to members who had been with the organisation for 20 or more years. They also decided to give special attention to long-time members who had let their membership lapse.


Audubon members receive a few perks. In addition to the newsletter, they get tangible benefits such as members-only pricing on the many trips and programmes that they run, a 10 per cent discount at the gift shop, a discount on summer camp for their children, free admission to the Environmental Education Center and other benefits

The membership renewal process starts at three months before a member’s anniversary date, with a series of follow-ups at two months and one month and a notice on their anniversary that the membership has ended.

Audubon decided to begin a ‘don’t-worry-about-it’ forgiveness programme for their 20+year members who hadn’t renewed their membership. Instead of allowing their membership to lapse, each of them received a carefully handwritten note on one of Audubon’s stunning bird note cards.

In 2012, Audubon decided to extend the programme to 10+year members.

Special characteristics

In the handwritten note, Audubon thanked this loyal member for many years of support. They gently suggested that perhaps the membership renewal might have escaped his or her notice but not to worry. Audubon understood how important protecting birds, wildlife and their habitat was to this member.

So, because Audubon didn’t want this long-time member to miss out on exciting programmes and important information, they were extending the membership for another year. Yes, for free. And they included an updated membership card.

Each note is carefully crafted, so the task takes donor relations manager Sharon Cresci almost a full day each month.


Something unexpected happened. Lapsed members started sending in their member dues at $45 and a number of them sent larger donations, often at $100 and more.

Since Audubon began sending the cards to 10+year members, 50 per cent in this programme renewed their membership. Some wrote to say that they had lost their job or had to cut back financially. Audubon told them ‘don’t worry about it’.

And, like the experience with the 20+ members, a surprising number of these returning members made a larger gift – a whopping 50 per cent – with many gifts at $100. They even received a $1,000 gift. And at the end of 2013 received a third gift at this amount from this $45 member that they might have considered had ended the membership.

Think about that. In your normal appeals to renewing donors, are you seeing 25 per cent upgrading their donation?


From the donor’s perspective, this programme walks the talk. Members are worth more than their donation. Now, as donor-centredness goes, that’s priceless.

When you take all you know about direct mail and apply it to this mailing, the card has lots going for it as a renewal device.

  • The envelope is handwritten and personally addressed.
  • The envelope carries a real stamp – not a flag stamp, but a speciality stamp.
  • The note card format stands out from all the business mail.
  • The stunning photo of a bird you see when you open the note card is hard to ignore and likely to be remembered.
  • Members are appreciated for their commitment.
  • The offer is genuinely sincere. Audubon cares about this donor for more than the value of her money.
  • Audubon feels that long-time members have made a real commitment to their organisation and its mission. So why lose them because they didn’t send $45? They’d rather keep them with them than to cut them off from all contact with Audubon.