Testing is essential to a successful direct response donor acquisition strategy because it helps you identify what works and what doesn't when it comes to attracting donors and raising more money. In fact, one of our favorite acronyms at Pursuant is: ABT. Always Be Testing.
By testing different approaches, such as different messaging, tactics, or audience segments, you can identify what resonates with potential donors and what doesn't, and make informed decisions about how to move forward.
Typically, most fundraisers associate direct response campaigns with direct mail. That’s certainly a critical component, but direct response also includes any outreach that elicits an immediate response from your donor. Your email campaign, landing pages, even social media ads all count, letting you take an omnichannel approach to your outreach.
The most effective direct response campaigns are personalized and compelling. The prospective donor should feel like this outreach is targeted at them and no one else. And, every bit of your copy should compel them to act.
We know it can feel overwhelming when it comes to deciding which elements of your campaign to test, so we’ve outlined six principles that should guide your approach below.
Best Practices for Testing Your Direct Response Efforts
Testing can come in all shapes and sizes: however, all tests are not created equal. Here are some key things to remember when you’re testing aspects of your acquisition program:
1. Have a Goal
When you’re testing, it’s important to have a specific goal you’re trying to move the needle on: response rate, average gift, frequency, retention, etc. Or, start smaller: do you want more people to open your emails? Do you need to increase the responses from your postcard?
Don’t test until you know what area of the program you want to impact. Do some research, develop your hypothesis, and use it as an anchor to create your test.
2. Focus on One Variable
Testing takes time. If you change too many things from one iteration to the next, you’ll have no way to pinpoint which variable led to the improved response or decreased performance. So, only test one thing at a time. Ideally, the variable you focus on should be directly related to your goal. For example, you can test:
If you have the budget, you can consider multi-variate testing. However, you would need an analyst to set up the testing and interpret the results.
3. Aim for Significance
Because there is a cost and risk associated with testing, it’s critical that you set up your testing appropriately. This will give you results that are statistically significant and can be acted upon.
Universe size will be important. The larger the test sample, the more statistical confidence you will have in your results. It’s also important to establish a control panel of similar make up (volume and segmentation) so you can measure the test results against it. If you aren’t sure what size test sample you need, use an online calculation tool.
4. Account for Cost
When evaluating results (especially on a net impact), be sure you are using rollout costs since test cost per piece can be much higher. Also, there are different ways to approach testing depending on your budget and your hypothesis:
5. Target the Right Audience
The list you use — whether for direct mail, email, or social media targeting — will directly impact the success of your campaign. You might start by sending the same message to your entire list, but then assess the responses and look for trends.
To save some time (and money), lean on what others have found about generational preferences. For instance, a study by the U.S. Postal Service showed 75% of millennials said they feel special when they receive personal mail. This will allow you do some segmenting from the beginning so you can focus on other variables.
6. Don’t Be Afraid to Lose
Keep in mind, not every test will be a winner. In fact, more often than not, the test loses against your tried-and-true control package. But testing it still worthwhile because, when you do find a winner, the positive impact to your program can be exponential. You may even be able to carry your findings across more than one campaign.
Direct Response Testing Samples
A National Disease Research Foundation Tests Urgency Language
With a goal in mind, our team tested the power of urgent language on carrier envelopes for a national disease research foundation. Our first appeal saw a 10.3% increase in response rate, and our second test saw an even greater improvement with a 20% increase. Personalization is important, but urgency can be a game-changer for fundraising success.
A Faith-based Arts and Culture Organization Tests a Low-Dollar Ask Array
Working with a faith-based arts and culture organization, we tested a theory with a lower dollar ask array. Our test array consisted of $20, $30, $50, and an open-ended amount, while our control array was $20, $40, and $60. Despite the uncertain economic climate, we saw a significant 8% lift in response rate with the test array, and the average gift remained consistent. The results show that sometimes, asking for less can lead to more generosity.
A Regional Healthcare Network Tests Suggested Ask and Personalization
We put our fundraising tactics to the test for a regional healthcare network by experimenting with a circled mid-ask on an envelope and added personalized name labels. The results were impressive with a 50% increase in response rate, albeit a small sample size. The average gift remained consistent at around $35 for the test and $39 for the control.