If the last time you considered modifying your direct mail fundraising package wasn’t this morning, you’re overdue. “Testing isn’t difficult or costly, but it is the lifeblood of your program,” is what Bryan Terpstra, senior vice president of direct response fundraising agency RobbinsKersten Direct, told an audience during a recent fundraising conference.
“If you are not testing, you are not moving forward. Every campaign should have a test,” he said.
Terpstra broke tests into two categories: Evolutionary and revolutionary. Evolutionary tests are those that modify existing formats, such as changing the amounts on a suggested donation ask string, or changing the stock of an outer envelope. Revolutionary tests involve complete overhauls of the creative package. That includes a new format or new verbiage theme.
Both have their place. In fact, enough evolutionary tests can result in a successful package that looks nothing like the control package used a few years prior.
Terpstra advocated considering three factors when mulling a given test: How hard is it to implement? How costly is it to implement? And, is the test likely to yield a significant increase in program results? Filtering test suggestions through these criteria will cause the best ideas to stand out, Terpstra added.
What types of tests should fundraisers consider? For starters, look at the first element a recipient sees – the mail package. Sizing a package differently, moving from a standard #10 envelope to, say, a 6 x 9 package, can help a solicitation stand out within a sheaf of letters. The differently sized package can also enable fundraisers to increase the size of the text, both on and inside the envelope. When the Special Olympics increased its format from a 6-inch by 4-inch package to a 7.25-inch by 5.25-inch package, its response rate jumped nearly 10 percent, Terpstra said.
The caution, of course, is that changes in design costs must be weighed against changes in results. Changing the shape of a mailing envelope can also significantly affect postage costs.
Outer envelopes can both hint at and obscure contents — and either strategy might work, depending on the organization sending the mailing. For instance, switching from a double-window envelope to a single window might make a solicitation look less like a bill. The question facing an organization — one which only testing will resolve — is whether this causes more recipients to open the envelopes.
Once the envelope is opened, fundraisers can test letter and copy treatments. As Robin Riggs, chief creative officer at RobbinsKersten Direct noted, there is more room for revolutionary tests within copy. An audience bombarded with feel-good messages around the November and December holiday season could be startled by a hard-hitting message. Just such a test, which substituted hard numbers for a traditional family-focused package, generated a 26 percent increase for an Alzheimer’s research organization.
Fundraisers should also test what they ask for, and how they ask for it. The “gift array,” also known as an “ask ladder,” is the series of suggested donations on a response card. What is asked for, and how it is asked for, can yield greater amounts.
Riggs made several suggestions regarding gift arrays, as befits contribution-focused mailings. For instance, amounts can be based off previous donations, and custom-printed on each solicitation. Suggested amounts can be listed starting with the highest amounts and listing the rest in descending order, as opposed to an ascending order. Fundraisers can circle a suggested amount, and include a note saying: “This amount would really help!”
Marketers can even use the suggested amounts to create what Riggs called “linkages.” These are examples of how each amount can further the organization’s mission. These examples can either be built into the cover letter, or incorporated through bullet points right on the solicitation slip.
Fundraisers will need to remember that a test is just that – a test. New designs should constitute only 10 percent or 15 percent of any campaign’s overall mail volume. If it goes higher there’s a risk of skewing the budget metrics for the mailing, should the test not be successful. NPT
Richard H. Levey is a New York City-based freelance writer.