Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3…

Are your direct mail response rates a little soft? Is your acquisition program not bringing you the results you were anticipating? Sounds like the time is ripe to do some testing to see what will improve your appeals and – by extension – increase your revenue. There’s plenty of things you can test, and we’ll talk about some of them here. The general rule of thumb is to test just one part of the package; otherwise, how will you know which component is making the difference? That said, if your current acquisition control package has been around the block more than a few times and has gotten a little stale, it would be worthwhile running it against a brand new package to see if there’s an uptick in response rates.


Typical test splits are 50% Control, 50% Test. If you’re risk-averse and really unsure how a test package will perform, change up the percentages so there’s not as much of an unknown entity (e.g. 65% control, 35% test). Do know that any test will involve some guesswork in terms of what will persuade a donor to give; however, to use an old cliché, without risk, there’s no reward. (Fun fact: a synonym for “risk” is “prospect”. I kid you not.)


Countless things can be tested, and results will vary by organization. A high-end bright, colourful and shiny envelope may produce amazing results for one org, while it may fall flat as a pancake for another. Oftentimes, a plain white envelope with no branding at all will do well for the simple reason it doesn’t look like direct mail. Testing will help you know your audience.


A coupon’s gift ask is another good place for testing. If you typically feature an array with an ascending matrix on your coupons, test a descending matrix as the donor’s eye can be anchored on the first gift amount. Have you tried circling a specific dollar choice with a note indicating ‘most people give this much’ – or something similar? Or converting the dollar amount to what it would cost the donor per day – i.e. “$15/month (or 50c per day)” as this breaks the gift down into seemingly smaller amounts that may be more attractive for donors.

How often do you use “Dear friend” as a letter salutation if there is no apparent addressee in your data (business donors, for example)? Something as simple as testing “Dear XYZ supporter,” instead, may set someone up to see themselves as a supporter already. And supporters support.

Other options for testing might include coupon size – older audiences appreciate larger areas to fill in their particulars. Test an 8.5 x 11 coupon against the usual, smaller sizes and see what happens. You could test the inclusion of an insert or a premium that would bulk out the envelope and make potential donors curious about what’s inside. Test the inclusion vs exclusion of premiums in prospect mailings. Test, test, test! But do make it a worthwhile test where you’ll be able to measure results, gain insights, and use what you’ve learned to keep fine-tuning your program.