Best Practice is Test Practice

Let me set the scene: You’ve just attended a conference and your head is buzzing with new ideas. But there’s one in particular that you have to try! You know your organization’s donors will love it and really respond to it. So you go to your decision-maker and put the idea in front of her. She immediately shuts it down. “Our donors won’t respond to that!”, she says. You, deflated, go back to doing the same old, same old.

Here’s another scene: You just got an email from your favourite charity (but not the one you work at). It has a lot of copy, yet you’re captivated the whole time you read it. You get to the end and can’t help but make a gift. But there was so much copy! That’s not best practice! And yet… you gave. So you start thinking about the charity where you work. You only write short copy emails there; it’s “best practice”, after all. You consider making your next email a bit longer, but the digital experts in your office might say no. And what if it sacrifices revenue?

If you’re like most fundraisers, one or both of these situations is familiar to you. Revenue is precious, and if it’s coming in, then there’s not a revenue problem. If there’s no problem, there’s nothing to fix. If there’s nothing to fix, why try something new?! New ideas have no place in your charity.

But there is a problem! Status quo is a problem. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but at some point things will plateau if they haven’t already.

And chances are, the most senior people at your charity don’t want to see revenue go flat. They want to see it go up.

But how?

We use a quote from Albert Einstein a lot in our office to shake us out of status quo:

So how do you stop being insane? How do you challenge your known best practice without sacrificing (too much) revenue?

You test.

In my opinion, we don’t do nearly enough testing in fundraising. We’re so risk-averse – and understandably so. We don’t have money to just play around with, and for most charities it would be irresponsible to “play” with our money anyway.

But there’s so much to learn by trying new things!

Testing is the way. Testing is the way to convince your organization’s decision-maker to try something new. You go status quo with one group of donors – maybe send them the year-end package you always have. And then with another group of donors – send them the new package! Or the long-copy email you’ve been wanting to try!

6 Tips for Testing:

  1. Test ONE thing. To have a true test, you have to be able to identify the one thing that made one “package” more successful than the other.
  2. You don’t have to do a 50/50 test, you can do 75/25 or whatever you want! But – for the test to be conclusive, you want to have a minimum of 100 responses.
  3. Don’t just test for testing’s sake. If the element that you’re testing “wins”, the assumption is that you’ll roll out that element in future efforts, so it needs to have value.
  4. Digital testing is the same as testing through mail. You’re still testing one thing.
  5. You can test more than just creative/copy elements. You can also test data elements. What would happen if you mailed 50% of your inactive donors a totally different letter than other donors? Would they perform better? Or what if you tested your usual ask grid ($50 $100 $250) against something a bit more aggressive? Would that result in a higher average gift?
  6. Sometimes – even without testing it – it’s time for your longstanding control package to go. (Note: Your “control” is the package that keeps on winning against test packages.) Just because it’s “winning” doesn’t mean it should still go out in the mail. Sometimes it’s time for something new, with or without testing.

(Shout-outs to my awesome colleagues Laura & Sara for sharing their best testing tips!)

Good luck, and happy testing!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for ten years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal

It may seem crazy sometimes, but mail continues to be the best way to engage donors or potential donors in our work.

Direct mail is both and art and a science… but it’s not rocket science.

Here are my 10 categories to consider in advance of your next DM appeal.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (1)

I know it’s boring and uninspiring, but let’s be realistic: the amount of money we have available to us drives what we do. If we think about what we’ve budgeted for before we get going on a campaign, we can allow the budget to guide us rather than limit us. It can help us determine how many people to mail, how many components to include in the mailing, what kind of paper to use, etc. If we realize that we need to increase the budget to achieve our goals, that’s fine, but think about the budget before anything else… and it won’t become our enemy.

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Next (somewhat driven by cost): Who are you mailing? Existing donors? Prospective donors? Females? Males? Both? How many people? Are they in your charity’s geographical area, or outside of it? Are they really engaged and generous donors? Donors who are long-lapsed? Your audience drives so much of what you’re going to do in any given mailing, so let this be your second consideration.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (3)

Obviously the main goal for any campaign is to raise money, but we also have the opportunity to get insights beyond the dollars we bring in. Before you start really planning for your mailing, determine whether you have the budget to do some testing. If you do, think about what you want to find out: will a more aggressive dollar amount ask generate more revenue or will it freak donors out? Does referencing your donors’ location in the world lift response, or does it make little difference? Think about it. The opportunities are endless, and it’s worth using some of your budget for.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (4)

OK, onto creative. Creative is somewhat dependent on the story you decide to tell in your mailing, but it’s also determined by budget, audience, and testing opportunities. What do you have the money to do creatively? Can you use something more exciting than a #10 envelope? Can you include some full-colour photos in the letter, or an insert to expand on the ask? Or – let’s go crazy – can you create a video to accompany the mailing? The creative needs to be aligned to other things in the package, but it’s better to get a sense of your parameters early on.

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I know this seems crazy, but only now is it really key to determine what you’re asking for. You may know already; it may be unrestricted funds like it always is. Or you might have a really urgent ask to make. However your process works, it’s now time to finalize the key priority you want to inspire the donor with, and you also want to figure out the ask amounts and how they might be based on the segment the donor falls into, their past giving, etc.

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These things aren’t really in a critical order, but if you haven’t figured it out already, it’s time to determine your story. The more personal, the better. If you can tell an individual’s story, that’s ideal. This story should be determined by some of the decisions you’ve already made; maybe it’s based on the audience you’re mailing. Maybe it’s part of a test. Maybe it lends itself to some creative you want to work with. Or maybe it ties perfectly to the ask you want to make. Whatever it is, make it inspiring!

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Just like we have to think critically about who sits across from the donor in a 7-figure major gift ask, we have to think about who “signs” a fundraising appeal. Who’s appropriate? Who matters to the donor? Whose voice do we want to use? We know that people are more motivated to give when someone they know asks, so we have to think about that just as much in direct mail. Have you always used your CEO? Great! Could it be worth testing another signatory? Probably! Just make sure you’re thinking about it strategically. It matters.

10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal (8)

OK time for a #donorlove break! Before you actually write this awesome and inspiring letter, think about the decisions you’ve made. Then think about the donor. Are they synced up, or is there some disconnect? If there’s a disconnect between the donors’ needs and the decisions you’ve made, then you need to stop and reconsider. Are you doing a test that could alienate donors? Be careful! Is the ask you’re making inspiring, or just an urgent need? Maybe you can do better! Is there truly a story in your letter, or is it organizational jargon? STOP. Think about the donor. If you need to make some changes, do. It needs to be about the donor.

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So the letter’s written, the creative’s created, and the package is nearly there. Time to consider variability (if not before this stage). Variability is your chance to speak to different donors within this larger group you’re mailing. Maybe you’re mailing regular donors and you want to acknowledge whether they gave recently, last year, a few years ago, or it’s… *cough*… been a while. Or maybe this is an acquisition mailing and those receiving it are made up of internal people (a.k.a. really inactive donors) AND external people (a.k.a. rental lists). You might want to acknowledge those groups differently. Make sure you consider this before you go any further; the more a donor – or potential donor – feels like you’re speaking to them, the more moved to give they will be.

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And finally – YOU. No, not YOU… the donor YOU. This is the final step. Take out the package, take out your red pen, and “circle the you’s”. This mailing isn’t about us – the fundraiser or the organization. It’s about the donor. It’s meant to speak to them, inspire them, and move them. So review your package and make sure you’re seeing many more “YOU”‘s than “WE”‘s. If you’re not, be prepared to start again. It’s worth it.

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So that’s it! 10 things to consider when writing your next direct mail appeal.

If you’re excited about this post, you probably want a chance to win one of these beauties!

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That’s right! Your very own red pen, ready to circle the you’s in your next appeal (as per #10)!

How can you win one? In one of two ways:

  1. By subscribing to my newsletter! OR
  2. Sending me an email with a quick message about what you liked about this post.

Do that, and a pen is in the mail!

Thanks for reading!

~~

Sign up for my email list and get a FREE E-BOOK on mid-level donors!

Written by Maeve Strathy

20150326_Strathy_Maeve_02
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email