Study: Donors React To Direct Mail More Than Email

“There isn’t enough reverence for the written word these days,” is a refrain shared among college professors, newspaper editors, coffee-shop poets, and direct marketers for nonprofit organizations. In the latter’s case, however, the numbers don’t quite back up the cry.

In fact, donors say that they are slightly more likely to read a piece of direct mail from an organization (37 percent) than an email (35 percent). About a quarter (28 percent) are not more likely to read one over the other.

The statistics come from “The Donor Mindset Study III,” a collaboration between Grey Matter Research and Opinions 4 Good. The companies surveyed 1,000 donors on a variety of preferences they might have concerning email and direct mail marketing and found that paper holds several advantages in areas such as ability to communicate story, facts, and information.

Donors believe that direct mail is better at telling a touching story by a clip of 38 percent to 23 percent. Among younger donors, the two are tied but the difference creeps up with age until reaching a 47 percent to 13 percent advantage among donors ages 65 and above. Gaps similarly expand as donor income constrains. Donors with household incomes of $100,000 or more find better stories in direct mail at a 36 percent to 30 percent rate while direct mail leads 40 percent to 17 percent among households of $40,000 or less in earnings.

More than one-third (37 percent) of all donors think that direct mail beats email (32 percent) when it comes to conveying facts, but the difference is segmented among age and income groups. Donors under the age of 35 prefer email at a difference of 48 percent to 31 percent. Donors between the ages of 35 and 49 see no discernable difference. Older donors ages 50 to 64 and 65 and older, however, prefer direct mail for facts 37 percent to 24 percent and 46 percent to 20 percent, respectively. Direct mail is also preferred by donors giving less than $100 (45 percent to 21 percent) before closing for mid-tier gifts and flipping in favor of email for gifts of $2,000 or more, 44 percent to 29 percent.

Where the good news runs out for direct mail is when it comes to the downsides between the two. More than one-fifth of donors (21 percent) have a set preference for email as compared to 16 percent of donors who favor direct mail.
One-third (34 percent) of donors indicate that they are more likely to be annoyed by direct mail than email while only 28 percent are more annoyed by emails. The difference is most pronounced among donors under the age of 34 where 45 percent of donors are more likely to be annoyed by direct mail as compared to 24 percent with email.

Direct mail is also more likely to be placed into the “round file” — waste bin — with 41 percent of donors more likely to toss an unopened piece of mail as compared to 26 percent of donors who are more willing to delete an unread email. Paradoxically, among those who are more likely to read direct mail, 34 percent also responded that they are more likely to discard an unopened piece of direct mail than an email. One fifth (20 percent) of respondents that prefer email are also more likely to ignore emails.

The takeaway, according to Ron Sellers, president of Grey Matter Research, is that very few donors have an overwhelming preference for email over direct mail or vice versa. Just 6 percent of respondents preferred email across all six factors measured in the survey as compared to 4 percent who held an overwhelming direct mail preference.

“There are some in the industry who preach that older donors simply won’t accept digital communication, or that young donors reject traditional direct mail,” Sellers said in a release.  “While different ages do lean toward one method or the other, most donors are quite accepting of both methods.”