Knowing When to Hold 'Em
As direct-mail fundraisers, we are under constant pressure to test new list strategies, packages, offers, media and messaging in our never-ending mission to raise response rates and results. I would argue that at no time is that pressure to gamble with new approaches greater than in an election-year cycle in which you're competing with the high rollers of political fundraising. Yet that is precisely the time you need to stare your fears down and play your best hand — the one you know that works.
We adopted a very conservative approach with testing on behalf of our national rescue mission clients during this most recent election cycle, recognizing the mountainous challenge in going up against well-financed political campaigns that saturated mailboxes. Instead, we kept our focus on the agency's battle-tested control package, resisting the temptation to go out with some new and exciting — yet unproven — variations that we knew carried varying degrees of risk.
The strategy paid off, as the campaigns generated a nearly 9 percent increase in net revenues from the September to December 2011 funding cycle. Revenue per piece also jumped 16.85 percent.
Further evidence can be found in the broader post-campaign analysis of results for 2012 holiday fundraising campaigns, which produced more than $3.75 million in net revenue — despite mailing approximately 65,000 fewer packages.
The results reflect aggregate analysis of approximately 20 different missions across the United States, ranging from small to large. Totals include only mail-based donor gifts coming from individual appeals as well as newsletters and other print formats.
Leading the impressive performance was the December package (see photo), which produced a nearly 23 percent lift in response from 2011 campaign totals. It capped a four-month-long initiative that began in September 2012 and saw increases in response rates every month throughout the cycle, ranging from 93 to more than 225 basis points. Average gifts were also up in every month except October, with September topping the list with a 20 percent gain.
While the agency maintained a tried-and-true approach with its creative and messaging, mailing schedules did shift. The goal was to avoid those periods where our research showed that the volume of candidate appeals would likely be greatest.
Direct-response fundraisers often struggle during the political season, as local, state and federal races attract giving that would otherwise be earmarked for charity. Donor fatigue and a still shaky economy continue to pose formidable challenges. But, don't succumb to those fears and overplay your hand. Better to wait for when the stakes are not quite as high and you can better afford to gamble.
Randy Brewer is president and CEO of Brewer Direct. Reach him via brewerdirect.com/contact/contact-us