5 Sure-fire Ways to Increase Response Rates

April 08, 2018 - by Lesley Hostetter for DMAW AdVents Magazine

All too often, we hear the same dilemma: we need more revenue, but our mail schedule is already jam-packed – there’s no room, or budget, for an additional mailing. What’s a fundraiser to do? One of the most straightforward solutions is to … increase response rate.

Easier said than done – but here are five proven ways to do it!

1. When in doubt, use renewal language

The word “renew” is one of the most powerful words we can use in direct response fundraising. Donors see this word and it reminds them of their past support and the obligation they made – and they know what to do.

Charities often make the mistake of thinking they can’t ask for a “renewal” because they aren’t a membership organization. That is not true! At certain times of year, we can safely ask donors to renew their support or renew their commitment for another year – and it nearly always improves response.

An example? A national organization wanted to try to raise more money in November – so they tested turning a long-standing appeal mailing into a renewal.

The test was conservative: the offer changed from “send your year-end gift” to “send your early 2016 renewal gift” in two places in the letter, and on the reply form. Response improved by 18%!

A year later, a renewal teaser was tested on the envelope. Response sky-rocketed – beating the control by 28%! AND giving to subsequent mailings was not negatively impacted.

This is an easy, no-cost, way to boost response, so I encourage you to give it a try.

2. Make it personal – starting with the OE

If you really want to increase response rate, you’ve got to start with what donors see first: the envelope.

Test for yourself, but we’ve seen that when you can make the envelope seem like it was hand-touched, response improves. Some winning techniques:

• Having the letter signer hand write the teaser (which is then scanned onto the art)
• Using multiple stamps (doesn’t matter how many!)
• Using a real, or faux, address label in the corner card 

3. Make it personal – on the inside too!

Don’t simply personalize the letter with the donor’s salutation or last gift amount – “make it personal” by considering where the donor is on their journey with you.

Are they a new donor? Tell them more about your organization, don’t assume they know all about you. Think about what message or design they joined on, and reflect that message back. Do you have new post-election donors? Try talking to them about how that decision was clearly a demonstration of their values, and keep them motivated by providing an update on your progress.

Are they a long-time donor? Telling them “you’ve been a donor for X years” is a great way to thank them and encourage them to continue their support.

4. Rethink your data targeting

Do you pull the same core audience for each mailing? If so, you may be mailing a lot of people who could safely be cut.

Before changing your data selects, you’ll have to dig into past results to determine if there are pockets of non-responsive donors in each mailing. Once you do that, you can test holding a group out of the mailing, if the sample size is large enough. A test like this can provide the proof you need to segment differently.

One local organization always sent renewals to all donors with a gift in the last 24 months. But it became clear that 13-24 month donors were underperforming in renewals – so they were strategically moved to certain appeal mailings. Overall retention – and reinstatement of one-year lapsed donors soared.

5. Make it multi-channel

Donors are busy people, and while they may intend to give to a mailing, it’s easy to get sidetracked. We can help them out by sending an email or two that supports the mailing – around the time it arrives in homes.

Whenever possible, we recommend a simple multi-channel approach like this because it boosts overall response. This is easier for organizations that are not siloed – because you may see the boosted response on a donor level (we don’t care if they give online or in the mail, so long as the GIVE!).

When one organization added emails timed to coincide with the direct mail renewal series overall giving soared. The mail results hit their projections – but the emails helped raise an additional $5,000 to $20,000 for each campaign!

If you want to boost response rate and be the hero in your organization, give one (or all!) of these 5 tips a try. And message me if you have another sure-fire response lifting strategy!

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