3 Variables to Test In Your Direct Mail Fundraising Appeals

3 Variables to Test In Your Direct Mail Fundraising Appeals

Are your nonprofit’s direct mail fundraising appeals working? Would a different approach to your appeals work better and help you raise more money for your organization?

You never know what direct mail fundraising tactics work best for your nonprofit until you test them.

Testing in direct mail fundraising is basically a process of running experiments on your appeals. You perform a test of how two variables might be related — and whatever the variable is, it should be something that has a measurable impact on your fundraising results. Don’t test too many things at once. You’re looking for answers on whether tactic A or tactic B performs better. If you test too many variables, it’s impossible to tell which one made the impact.

Each test includes a test group — a segment of your donors who will receive the new package or treatment you’re testing — and a control group. The control group gets what you’ve always sent. By comparing the response rates of the two groups, you learn which tactic works better for your organization’s audience.

The value of testing is the continuous improvement your fundraising appeals. In fact, some of the most successful nonprofit organizations include a test in every appeal campaign. What variables might you consider testing in your upcoming fundraising appeals? Here are three ideas.

Segmented Messaging

Testing messages to segments of your donors is one of the easiest places to begin. More segmented messaging gets you closer to today’s personalized, one-to-one (vs. one-size-fits-all) communications.

There are many ways you could segment your donors. At the most basic level, you can segment based on their donor status: active, lapsed, new (among others). Do prospects receive the same message as current donors? You could test messaging to acquisition targets. If your organization operates different programs — and you know which donors are passionate about each program — you can test program-focused messaging. Some other segments include:

  • Generation Demographic
  • Affiliation
  • Entity Type (individual, corporation, foundation, etc.)
  • Annual Giving Level

Appeal Design

We have some nonprofit clients who send visually stunning appeal letters that include color images and background color, and they perform very well. We work with other clients who send your basic letterhead-style appeals, no images … and they also perform very well.

When it comes to testing appeal design, go big or go home. Be bold and creative with the different design variables. Just make sure the variables can be tested.

Online/Offline Integration

Would a donor give more to your campaign if they received a direct mail appeal integrated with an email appeal? While direct mail is still the most effective fundraising channel, online giving continues to grow. And with the extremely positive results of the #GivingTuesday movement, it’s worthwhile to explore ways to test your digital/direct mail integration.

In addition to the email/direct mail combo, you could test campaign specific landing pages, personalized landing pages, or Facebook Advertising using Custom Audiences.

What else should you know about testing? First, be sure to study the results of your tests, retest to see if you can replicate the results, and act on the results in future campaigns. Your test results are the voice of your donors — Listen to what they are saying, even if it’s not what you expected (or wanted) to hear.

Second, don’t assume that what worked for another nonprofit will work for you. This is why testing is so important. If you see another organization do something unique, and you wonder if it would work for you, test it.

Testing could be a game-changer for your nonprofit. A better understanding of your audience and what triggers them to give enables you to create and send more effective direct mail fundraising appeals and raise more money for your cause.


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