Was it a Winner or a Loser? Why Testing is Critical

Testing is a critical and essential part of any effective direct mail program. Just like competing for customers and sales in the commercial world, competition is intense for donors and their loyalty. This competition is healthy, as more ideas and concepts flow out into the marketplace which can be adapted by different organizations with innovative package adjustments and tweaks that relate to their specific missions.

Those were some of the thoughts shared by Mike Vcelik, senior director, marketing at Boys Town and Linda Sode, senior vice president of Infogroup, during an interactive session “Was it a Winner or a Loser? Why Testing is Critical” at the 2017 DMA Nonprofit Conference in Chicago. The testing scenarios that these veteran fundraisers presented included both incremental and conceptual examples.

It’s important to note that a nonprofit’s primary testing approach depends on how mature or established their control is and the size of the donor file. The initial path to improving results is accomplished through package or concept testing for an organization dealing with a fatigued control or seeking to grow their file. Package or concept testing includes changing more than one variable in an attempt to find a big win and establish a new control.

Another way to improve results is through incremental testing, where only one variable is isolated and changed in each test cell. Incremental testing is best suited for an appeal with an established control or a larger file with the capacity to include more test cells. Both types of testing are important to all nonprofits and can be used strategically to improve their results.

According to the panelists, testing has many objectives depending on the organization’s focus of increasing net revenue and/or file size. The best path to accomplish these objectives is by increasing the response rate. At the end of the day, increasing a package or program’s response rate in a cost effective manner cures all evils. Over the course of a year, packages with strong response rates increase many key metrics, primarily the number of gifts per donor and the donor retention rate.

Improving those metrics through testing brings about a direct mail program’s ultimate goals which are to optimize results, keep its constituency engaged and raise as much money as possible for the mission. In order for your testing to boost an organization’s direct mail revenue, the testing outcomes have to be analyzed and viewed consistently, objectively and, most importantly, followed.