We recently conducted a couple of tests on a rollout mailing of a successful prospect (acquisition) direct mail package. The package has been mailed out several times now, and the tests were conducted to further build upon the success of previous mailings. For this test, we mailed our control package rollout at a quantity of about 168,000 with two test packages at about 19,000 each. The first test was to increase the size of the reply sheet from an 8.5” x 5.5”, non-folded, two-sided sheet to an 8.5” x 11” folded, two-sided sheet. The larger test reply sheet used all the same copy from the control reply, but it was spaced out more and formatted slightly differently. We tested this change to make the reply language easier to read, which we hoped would increase response rates. The second test was a back end premium offer for gifts of $100 or more. The $100 ask amount was circled on the reply with a little note about the back-end premium item underneath. This test package also referenced the back-end premium in a note at the end of the letter. This $100 offer was tested in an attempt to increase the average gift. The control package for this mailing produced a 2.69 percent response rate and an average gift of $23.09. The first test package with the larger reply produced a 2.34 percent response rate with an average gift of $26.37. The lower response rate was the opposite of what we hoped this test would achieve, but the larger reply did account for a slightly higher average gift than the control package. The second test package with the $100 back-end premium offer produced a 2.47 percent response with only a $21.93 average gift. Clearly, this attempt to increase the average gift was not successful. Neither of the tests yielded the hoped-for results, but the information gained is still valuable for structuring future tests as we look for ways to further improve this already-successful prospect package. For help with developing your next fundraising campaign, contact LDMI today.
The fundraising mindset is not natural for most people. It takes a lot of work and experience, combined with a drive for success and a desire to challenge assumptions. It’s a very pragmatic task – finding what works, doing it well, then testing everything to see how it can further improve. A recent article by Steven Screen illustrates why the fundraising mindset is often hard to “get” for founders and other mission-focused staff inside of nonprofit organizations. There are a few basic objections that some nonprofit leaders and staff raise when considering fundraising offers: “That’s not the whole picture.” This is the thinking that every program and part of your charity’s mission should be discussed in your fundraising copy. But the truth is, donors don’t respond to the whole picture. They don’t have time for it. They respond to specific cases and needs, and these needs must be honestly presented. “Whole picture” fundraising has been proven ineffective over and over again. So, it’s important to do what works, and do it honestly and as effectively as possible. “This is too emotional.” What’s interesting about this is that founders of nonprofits, in particular, were moved to launch the organization, as others are moved to join the mission, because of their emotional response to the need. Over time, those driving the mission out in the field can become less motivated by the emotional appeal and more focused on measuring effectiveness — while donors are moved by particular stories and needs. Again, understanding what motivates donors is a big part of the fundraiser’s job. A third argument comes in the form of, “But if our donors knew more about what we do, they would give more.” This ties in with, “We just need to tell donors how effective we are.” While these are definitely important, experience and testing over time have shown that giving detailed explanations of programs and patting yourself on the back for how well they’re performing does not work as well as fundraising for a particular need. The best place to talk about programs and effectiveness is in a donor newsletter, which should be created as a “soft-ask” direct mail package. The donor newsletter will raise some money, but not nearly as much as communicating an urgent need with a powerfully emotional story. Whether your fundraising happens in-house or with a professional agency, nonprofit leaders should seek out those with the right mindset to excel at bringing in the resources that sustain and grow their mission. For help with developing your next fundraising campaign, contact LDMI today.
“Why do you mail so often? I don’t need all those letters.” Hearing something like this from a donor can give a nonprofit pause about how much mail they’re sending out. But even if your supporters might think they’re receiving too much mail, donor behavior tells another story. Many nonprofits have experimented with decreased mailing schedules, almost always with the same result: a corresponding drop-off in donations. Author and fundraising expert Tom Ahern wrote recently that while attending a very high-level fundraising conference he was surprised by what the experts were saying about the optimal number of solicitations to send per year. A colleague answered that 20 times per year was the optimal number, while another speaker said that their testing showed 21 was the maximum, with further appeals showing decreasing returns. Another veteran fundraiser believed the “sweet spot” was 36 annual appeals. The key takeaway according to Ahern: “Over-solicitation is probably NOT your charity's problem.” Grizzard Communications performed an interesting test of the question in 2014. Donors who gave more than $500 annually were asked how often they would like to receive appeals. The 37 percent who replied requested between one and three mailings per year. Tracking subsequent donor behavior revealed that those who received the full twelve solicitations per year donated 35 percent more on average. Why the disconnect? First, and most obviously, donors respond to different appeals. Not everyone who supports Project A is equally excited about Project B. Second, timing matters. The reason so many nonprofits focus on the holidays is because this is by far the biggest season for giving. Still, each donor may respond due to other factors that come up during the year, and since we can’t know with certainty what is the best time for every donor, frequent solicitations are the best guarantee that your donors will see your message at the time that is best for them. If they are donating to you, they support what you are doing, and you shouldn’t be shy about asking for even more support. It is important to respect donors’ wishes and limit mailings when specifically requested, but most organizations have room to grow if the goal is to maximize return on investment from their donor file. So, remember, your donors give because they love your cause. If you send them less appeals, they will hear less about what they love and end up sending you less money. If your non-profit receives less money you will not be able to do as much good. It’s that difference you are making that caused the donor to fall in love with the good your non-profit is doing in the first place. Don’t make it easy for your donors to fall out of love. For help with developing your next fundraising campaign, contact LDMI today.
Every nonprofit’s goal is (or should be) to have direct mail fundraising packages that deliver good results every time they’re mailed — for years and years. In prospect mail, this is a package that can be rolled out to larger and larger quantities with each mailing and still performs well. In your house file mail, this is a package mailed annually at about the same time each year. We call these your “control” packages. But even your most successful direct mail packages can be improved through creative testing. We were recently looking for a way to beat a monthly gift package we’ve been mailing to a client’s house file for a decade. This control package showed a First-Class stamp paperclipped to the letter, and the opening of the letter, through an oversized window on a 6”x9” carrier envelope. While this package has been successful for years in acquiring new monthly donors — beating other format tests — it is expensive because of the First-Class stamp and the handwork needed to paperclip the stamp to the letter. In our latest test, we mailed this control against a closed-face 6”x9” envelope on which an image of the stamp and the beginning of the letter were printed. The test package still contained a First-Class stamp, but it was affixed to the return envelope, which is done by machine and is less expensive than hand-affixing with a paperclip. To keep costs down, we made minimal changes to print similar components together that could be used for both packages. This package had a pre-printed blue circle of the words “First-Class stamp” with an arrow pointing to the stamp. But since the stamp wasn’t there in the test package, the text of the beginning of the test package letter was changed accordingly. Since the primary goal was to bring in new monthly gift donors, not short-term net revenue, analyzing the data on new monthly givers would be a key component in evaluating the results of this test. The Results The test package raised more gross revenue, had a higher percent response, and tied with the control on the overall average gift. When it came to monthly gifts, the test package brought in about the same number of new monthly givers as the control, but the test package monthly donors gave a higher average monthly gift. These results, combined with the fact that the test package was less expensive to produce, means that the test package dethroned the long-running control package. Not every test will result in a winner, but if designed properly, every direct mail test will yield useful information. Package and component tests, even for packages that have been successful in the past, are essential for a successful nonprofit direct mail program. For help with developing your next fundraising campaign, contact LDMI today.
Optimizing the return on your nonprofit’s direct marketing investment is both an art and a science. You develop creative ways to boost response and then measure the results. The data from direct mail testing is empirical, factual. To paraphrase a popular speaker, these are facts that don’t care about your feelings. But you have to carefully design your tests to ensure the accuracy of your data. For example, when conducting a test to increase the performance of a control package, you should only change one element of the package to better know what caused the difference in results. If you change two factors, you’re not sure which had the effect, or if they cancel each other out. Knowing what effect that one test element had on your package can help you make decisions about future packages. We recently helped a client test a design element we hoped would increase average gift amounts of a successful house file control package. The one simple design change on the reply (see image) was to circle the second ask amount with a script text note off to the side, “This amount would really help!” The ask string amounts were calculated the same way in both packages. The first ask amount reflected the supporter’s highest previous contribution (HPC) and the second ask amount (the one circled in the test) was calculated as 1.5 times HPC. So the test nudged donors to give just a little bit more than we knew they were capable of giving. The test package outperformed the control package by a substantial margin in terms of average gift. In the test package, we saw an average gift of $67.99 versus $56.79 for the control package. This is more than a 19 percent increase in average gift for this particular mailing. This test was successful because it increased average gift like we hoped it would. We’ve rolled this test out to other packages, with the same and other clients, and we’ll report back more results in the future. For help with developing your nonprofit’s next fundraising campaign, contact LDMI today.
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