Test and Evaluate

Photo by Howard Lake.

Photo by Howard Lake.

If you are like me, you’ve received a direct mail piece with a nickel in it at least once in your life. I’ll admit I cannot stand this method of donor acquisition. It feels like a guilt tactic, and giving out of guilt doesn’t feel good. I also can’t help but start mentally calculating how many hundreds of thousands of pieces of direct mail were sent out, multiplied by that extra five cents in each envelope.

That said, I do open the envelope and spend at least a few seconds reviewing the contents. You know why? Because I cannot justify throwing money away—no matter if it is only a nickel. And you know why I continue to receive these “nickel” mailings annually? Because they work. Perhaps it’s guilt over needing to return the nickel to a needy organization. Perhaps it’s the fact that the nickel caused someone to take the first step and open the envelope to get to the wonderful appeal letter inside. For whatever reason, those who use these types of mailings use them because they work. They know they work because they’ve tested them.

Testing and evaluating your direct mail efforts regularly is vital. The three laws of testing are:

  • Always have a control group that will receive the regular appeal so you have something to test against.
  • Only change one element at a time when testing. If you test too much, you won’t know what worked and what didn’t.
  • Code the different versions, so you can track response rates.

What should you test? Here are some ideas:

  • Use of a postage-paid return envelope
  • Signatory
  • Amount requested
  • Number of pieces in the envelope
  • Premiums (i.e. nickels, return address labels, magnets, etc.)
  • Frequency of requests
  • Personalization

For each group, the control group and the test group, measure responses received per number mailed, the amount raised, the total cost/dollars raised and average gift. Over time, you’ll learn what works and increase your overall direct mail effectiveness.

Creating a Productive Direct Mail Package


Photo by Howard Lake.

Continuing our conversation on direct mail, today’s post highlights the importance of a productive direct mail package.

Your most important consideration in any productive package is your audience. Keep your target audience in mind at all times when writing and creating your package. Better yet, think of one person within your target audience and write to her or him.

Consider the following:

  • The outer envelope. Of utmost importance is getting your reader to open your envelope. It doesn’t matter how well you’ve written your letter or that you’ve included a brochure if your donor doesn’t open the envelope. Perhaps a plain white envelope with only the organization’s address will create enough intrigue to open the letter, or perhaps a photograph of individuals needing assistance with an urgent plea for help is needed. Consider what is most effective for your audience and your organization.
  • How long will your letter be? Your letter needs to be well-written and easily scanned no matter the length. Don’t start your letter with a set length in mind. Say what needs to be said and make it compelling.
  • Will the return envelope be postage-paid? Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE, and international fundraising consultant, would say yes.
  • Who is signing the letter and is it an electronic signature or a personal signature? I just received a letter from my alma mater signed by the President. He wasn’t president when I went there, and I have never met him. His electronic signature meant nothing to me. I’d have much rather heard from a former professor or a student currently in my program (as long as said student was articulate).
  • How much personalization is possible? You’d better be addressing people by name in this day and age, but is it feasible to include variable printing of entire paragraphs or photos depending on last gift date or constituency?
  • What is the reader being asked to do? There should be a clear and concise call to action. This call to action should be repeated.
  • What is the overall look and feel? Does your writing style and letter design reflect what your donors see in your other l materials, on your website and in your emails? Consistency will reinforce your brand, your message and your awareness.

Creating a Productive Direct Mail Letter


Photo by Howard Lake.

Your direct mail letter is your case for support. Just like a case for support, it should include key elements such as stories, photographs, the why now, supporting information and a call to action.

  • Research shows that people read direct mails letters by looking at the salutation first, who signed the letter and the post script last. Then they may decide to read the rest. Restate your case in the post script.
  • Make the first paragraph personal, specific and compelling. Write as though you were holding a conversation with one person. Make your copy speak to the reader by including you and your often. Have empathy with your reader and communicate a winning attitude.
  • Show a need, a solution and how your organization can provide that solution. Then tell your donor how he or she can be part of the solution. Compliment the donor.
  • At the end of the first page, continue a sentence onto the next page. Ask for the gift once, twice, three different times in different ways. Use short sentences and short, indented paragraphs. Give exact instructions for sending gifts of money.
  • Use bullets, underlining and headlines to emphasize your points.

Incorporate white space to increase the readability factor. Write in present tense using active verbs. Longer letters out-perform shorter letters. Finally, proofread, proofread and proofread again. Typos can come back to haunt you.

Direct Mail is Easy, Right?


Photo by Howard Lake.

You stuff a bunch of envelopes with appeal letters, pledge cards and envelopes, mail them and wait for the money to come rolling in. What could be easier, right?

If only. . .

Of all the applied fundraising techniques—face-to-face, telephone, direct mail or special events—direct mail generates the lowest expected return. So why bother?

Simple. It is one of the best ways of acquiring new donors to your organization and is also a cheap way to renew donor support regularly. That said, without careful planning and testing, your letter may find its way to your donor’s circular file.

This is the first of four posts on direct mail, so here is our first tip for a successful direct mail appeal:

Take time to develop your prospect list.

Who are your obvious donors? Who else may be interested in supporting your organization’s mission? Who have you helped previously? Who is prominent within the community? Who are your local corporations, businesses and vendors? Who are the philanthropists who spread their wealth to many groups? Who are your organization’s neighbors?

Not all prospects are alike. Some give annually. Others have yet to give. Some crave recognition. Segment your list by what makes sense for your organization. It may be major donors, current donors and future donors. It may be individuals versus businesses. Either way, target your message to each segment (more on that in a later blog).

Keep in mind that more than 80 percent of your revenue will most likely come from major and current donors. While non-donors are needed to replace current donors whose giving drops off for various reasons, don’t expect to make money from a non-donor appeal. It is not unusual to spend $2 for every $1 produced by new donors.