Tips for Testing Direct Mail Marketing for Fundraising

In an earlier post on direct mail stats we noted that 78% of donations for nonprofits come from direct mail, 73% of consumers prefer mail over other promotional efforts, and 70% feel that mail is more personal that the Internet or email. 

So while it’s tempting to put all your fundraising efforts into online and email promotions because they are cheap and easy, it’s really direct mail that that can make a huge impact. It’s response rate is from 3% to 6% for house lists while email is well below at 0.5% to 3%.

With that said, how do you make sure you’re doing everything you can to optimize your direct mail fundraising?

Test Everything—All the Time

You must test everything relentlessly. Things that worked for a while can grow stale or even stop working completely. You need to measure your results and test options along the way to find what works today for your organization and for your mission.

Mailing Lists and A/B Testing 

As the basis for your testing you'll need to select similar A versus B mailing lists ideally in the range of 3,000 to 5,000 addresses. However, you can test with as few as 100 to 500 addresses. It's just that the smaller your test lists, the more likely you won't have a statistically valid response. None-the-less, testing in whatever manner possible will still add insight into what works and what doesn’t.

You'll also need to set up test mailing lists that are relatively similar to one another in terms of the key factors for your audience. For example, you wouldn't want to test one thing on an audience in the Southwest and another on a Northeastern audience and expect to learn anything by the differences in their response. Instead, you'll need two relatively closely matched lists that would be expected to return identical results if they received the same mailing.

Once you've set up your testing lists, you'll need to consider what to test between those lists. Ideally, you'll only be testing one item for each test. Otherwise you will see different results but won't be able to narrow down the exact cause because of too many differences between the mailings. 

Tips on What to Test

So what are some of the key things to test? Here are our thoughts on the key items to get you started. 

Mailing List. It’s estimated that direct mail creative will only affect 20% of the response rate while the mailing list will affect 80%. Given that insight, you need to spend a great deal of time on your mailing list. It needs to be constantly updated and nurtured to find those who are aligned with your mission as well as willing and able to support that mission.

Building List Data. You can typically expect that people who have already supported your cause are three times more likely to respond than those who haven't. So make sure you build donor history into your list database

Segment prospects from current donors, as each will respond to different messages. Also include the amount people donate and the season in which they donate. This can help you determine when and how often to send direct mail. All this is only the start of adding data to your mailing list.

Creative. As noted above, 80% of your success will be due to the mailing list with roughly 20% of your success attributed to the creative. Now that you have your optimized mailing list, you can focus on the creative elements for your letter including inserts, brochure, donation form, envelope, premiums, along with the associated landing pages.

Letter. We feel that the most important part of any mailing is the letter. As we noted in the stats above, a letter just seems like a personal communication and people will take time to read your message. Here are a few items to test within that letter:

  • Headline. This is your key item to attract the reader to the rest of your message. Try benefits, promises, impact, and how they can make a difference in supporting your mission.
  • Opening. Critical here is talking to the reader about what's important to them. If you start out by talking about your organization, you'll lose them.
  • Copy. Try bulleted lists, scribbled notes in the margins, highlights, and subheads to bring your message home to those who are just skimming the letter.
  • Call to Action. Make it easy for your reader. Spell out exactly what you want them to do.
  • P.S.. This section of the letter can actually be very effective. It has been proven to be the most read part of a direct mail letter.

Inserts. Examples of what can be included are post-it notes that generate curiosity about the lumpy letter in their hands or some other insert that serves as a motivator to get your audience to open the envelope and engage with the contents. 

Brochure. The brochure should be designed to convert the prospect who is sitting on the fence to support your efforts with their hard earned cash.

Donation Form. The donation form has been found to affect as much as 10% of the final decision. Plus, it is often read before anything else in your mailing package as the recipient attempts to cut to the chase. Given this, make sure you're including your key selling points on the donation form. 

Envelope. The goal is getting people to open the envelope. As on example, tests have shown that a completely blank envelope, save for the personalized address, was opened and acted upon more frequently than branded envelopes. Test what works best on your mailings from branding, to promotional copy, to the type of postage. That’s right. The postage can make a difference. If it’s a stamp, it can seem more personal versus an indicia.

Premiums. Try different premiums for different levels of giving. Some things are going to pull better than others. Find out what is best for your audience and/or different segments of your audience. 

Landing Page. Make sure you’re integrating your direct mail campaign with your online fundraising efforts. A key part of that is your landing page. This is an easy thing to test by providing several landing pages with different links in your mailing campaigns.

Testing Isn’t Magic

As we’ve noted throughout this blog post, you’ll need to conduct tests to make sure every aspect of your direct mail campaign is fine tuned to maximize your results—and to make sure it remains maximized over time. However, testing isn’t magic. 

Here’s what you can typically expect from your testing:

  • 53% of what you test will make no difference at all.
  • 25% will improve your response rate.
  • 22% will hurt your response rate.

So, testing is critical but don’t expect it to provide a silver bullet that will jet propel your results. Instead, the race goes to the steady—testing, tweaking, and building to ensure that you’re getting the most for your direct marketing investment.

We Can Help

When it comes to direct marketing, we can help. We've been working with nonprofits on all their fundraising initiatives for quite a few years. We can ramp up your efforts and help you maximize your results.

Give us a call at (855) 329-4327 or 

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John Connors

John Connors

John is a passionate patriot and business owner. He launched Campaign Now in 2008 to help free-market oriented, American organizations increase their reach and achieve important results. When he’s not strategizing growth plans with clients, you can find him sharpening his history chops, playing tennis in the Texas heat, or spending time with family.


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