Benefits of Testing

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Test and Know

There’s one thing experience has taught us over years of fundraising: Direct mail is (most often) counter intuitive.

Because direct mail fundraising is an intricate blend of art and science, we rely a lot on relevant past experience and theories to develop our strategies.

The problem comes when we begin to think of them not as theories but as rules. Then perhaps we teach young fundraisers what to do, but don’t explain why we do it or how we arrived at this approach. And we hear from another organization that they had great success (or not) with a particular strategy – and we accept it as gospel and apply it as many places as we can in our own fundraising plan.

Perhaps most importantly, just because something was “proven” to generate the most responses or the largest average gift doesn’t mean it will always be true. Things change. And so will the “current best practices.”

I tend to lean on data as fact, so I like to know what works best – with this particular audience, in this particular context, at this particular time. I’m a fan of testing. I like to test as much as possible. I test:

·      New and different audiences

·      Different offers

·      Ask amounts, number of recommended asks, order and positioning of ask amounts

·      Creative elements like teasers, photos and graphics, involvement devices, etc.

·      Entirely different creative

Here’s when a test might be wise:

·      The same appeal has been running repeatedly without any changes to strategy or creative

·      Performance is flat or declining

·      You need better donor engagement or are looking to increase giving

·      You need to raise more money

·      There’s a difference of opinion on what the “best” approach is

Some recent test learnings with a nonprofit client provide a good example of how different audiences respond differently – and why it’s always smart to test.

Based on past experience with other organizations, we wanted to validate whether adding a “check” to the package with a matching gift offer i.e. using a visual aid to illustrate the doubling effect on the donor’s own gift – would increase response from prospective donors. We were pleased to achieve a 26% lift in response by adding the check.

John Payne