Direct Mail: How Much is Too Much?
I’m often asked, “How many fundraising appeals should we send to our donors each year?” The question usually comes after some senior executive or board member has complained to a fundraising manager about overly aggressive appeal frequency. Or after a few donors have written to complain about “too much mail.”
More than a year ago, my colleagues designed a donor-tracking study to gain better insight into this question. Four equally sized groups of donors to a particular nonprofit organization were isolated into four test panels. All the donors were current; each had given at least one gift of any amount in the previous 12 months.
About 30 percent of the donors across all the panels had cumulative giving of between $15 and $24.99. About 40 percent had given from $25 to $49.99. And the final 30 percent had cumulative giving between $50 and $99.99.
The nonprofit organization conducting the study is a large group that raises money across the United States using a variety of methods and channels. It’s also a growing and sophisticated organization.
The tracking study was set up to answer two basic questions: Would reduced appeal frequency result in better donor performance? Would reduced frequency lower costs yet produce the same or better net revenue?
The Appeal Frequency Test Panels chart shows the donor population of each panel, how many appeals they received during the 12-month test period, and how many newsletters were mailed in addition to the appeal packages. Panel One was the control group; each donor received a total of 25 fundraising impacts over the 12 months, including 18 appeals and seven newsletters.
The only variable across all the test panels was the number of mailed appeals, except for Panel Four, which also received a “no ask” affirmation, namely a special “expression of gratitude” letter with no fundraising language. Each panel received gift-acknowledgment receipts and any outbound telemarketing calls they were qualified to receive. In other words, except for the number of appeals and the “no ask” affirmation package sent to Panel Four, all of these donors were treated exactly alike.