Direct Mail in an Increasingly Digital Age (yes, you still need to do it!)

Many young people are incredibly well-connected.
Date Published
Kathy Giles

Digital fundraising has become an ever-growing subject at conferences, during webinars, and in blogs. Topics such as A/B email testing, optimizing donation forms, use of social media, and targeted ads are taking center stage. And they are all important for a growing balanced fundraising program. However, for most organizations direct mail is still King (or Queen).

Direct mail is the largest channel for donor acquisition, renewals, and lapsed recapture. It is the base for most donor communications, including mid- and major donors. And it still needs to feel the love.

You may say, “but my digital channels are growing the fastest.” And that might be true, but for most organizations revenue from digital channels are not yet at the level of direct mail. Most donors still choose to respond to you through the mail.

However, you can use digital channels to support your direct mail and strengthen your relationship with your donors. Messages work together across channels so coordination is key. This also gives your donors the opportunity to choose how to respond to you, through mail, email, or online.

Before you make any changes to your program, you should better understand how these channels work together. To do this you will first want to look at revenue by channel. This will provide insight as to which channels your donors are choosing to communicate with you.

Remember, this will not necessarily show you how your donors receive your messages. A donor may read your direct mail piece and respond by making a gift online. It could also be that a well-crafted email confirms the need for support, and triggers the donor to make his/her gift in the mail.

If you want to better understand how different channels work together in your program, you can test them.

Segment your files into the following segments:

  • Mail Only — this segment will receive only mail
  • Mail and Email — this segment will receive both channels

Then split the Mail and Email segment in half for an A/B test. Send half mail only and the other half direct mail and email.

The test maintains direct mail as the base of the communication and will show you how the addition of email affects results. You will also want to monitor gifts coming in online, to see if donors go straight to your website to make their gift.

If your donors predominantly give through digital now, and you feel that direct mail is not as effective as it used to be, you could add in a third segment to the above test. This would be:

  • Email Only

This will help you understand how direct mail impacts your program. Though you will want to be careful with this test since the results could be very surprising.

For example, there was an organization that had a highly digital responsive file. Most gifts came in through email and other online sources. When mail was removed from a test segment in a campaign, revenue was more than 35% lower than the control segment that received both mail and email. So, even though donors responded through digital channels, they were receiving the message through direct mail. When mail was removed, it had a large impact on response and revenue.

So, before you decrease the level of direct mail in your program, implement your due diligence and understand how this change will impact your donor file and your revenue. Because, yes, you still need direct mail.

About the Author:
Kathy Giles
Director of Client Management, Agency Services

Role at the Company

As an Account Director with Agency Services I work with clients to develop their direct response, annual giving, and membership programs. I am responsible for the strategy, budget, creative oversight, planning, and results reporting for each campaign as well as ensuring we are meeting all client expectations. I also work to build the client relationship to not only retain the client, but to also look for opportunities to increase activities with clients, through any of our three business areas. And new business is always on the radar!

What excites you about your work at AFG?

With the three divisions, we have more opportunities to support our clients. We can extend the services offered to provide more full-service-oriented solutions to current and prospective clients, allowing AFG to become more involved with a client’s program. This also allows for more growth and learning, on a personal note.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

To feed my love of stories and storytelling, I went to school for film production, with a concentration in documentary film. I have had the opportunity to work on a few documentaries including one for the United Nations on the history of interpretation where I was able to visit several embassies and spoke with the amazing people in the UN Interpretation Service.

Today, I get to tell the stories of the non-profit clients I work with.

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