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One Simple Method To Increase The Results Of Your Next Direct Mail Appeal

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Year-end brings the largest flurry of direct mail within the nonprofit sector. Most charities rely on the final two months of each year to achieve more than 50% of the funding of their mission.  

New research confirms a course of action that can increase the results of those year-end appeals as well as other appeals throughout the year. The research was just released this week by the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy.

Thank You Letter BEFORE the Direct Mail Appeal

The portion of the research on Gift Acknowledgements we will be highlighting here centered on analysis of testing performed by Planned Parenthood. The essence of the analysis was based upon the simple premise of the following question:

Will sending a thank you letter out prior to your next direct mail appeal letter improve results?

The short and quick answer is YES!  Now let’s explore the how and how much.

This is a simple A/B test that virtually every nonprofit engaging in direct mail can reproduce with just a slight amount of effort. The Planned Parenthood appeal was divided into two equally sized groups. The first group did receive the thank you only (no solicitation) mailing prior as outlined in the slide below. The second group did not receive a pure thank you letter prior to being mailed the appeal letter.

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The Difference an Extra Thank You Touch Can Make Will Surprise You

Most of you are probably guessing that the condition one group did perform better when the dollars were tallied after the follow-up solicitation. However, the level of difference, as shown below, certainly proves the practice as being well worth the time and effort!

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Seldom does any such A/B test reveal a 67% increase over the control group.

There is much in the way of excellent analysis in the report regarding this test. My favorite analysis is this section:

“Whether a thank-you letter was sent did not change response rate to the renewal letter. The response rate to the renewal letter was 1.49% in donors who did not receive the thank-you letter and 1.43% in those who did receive the thank-you letter. A logit regression shows that whether donors received the thank-you letter or the version of the renewal letter did not significantly affect renewal rates.

But the thank-you letter massively increased the average donation amount…  Donors who received the thank-you letter gave more… to renew their annual gift than those who did not receive the thank-you letter.”


We hope this heightened your interest in various tests that you can do to increase the results of your direct mail appeals.  So much can be done to improve communications with your prospects and donors for most nonprofits.

We hope you find a new practice or procedure that can achieve a 67% increase in funding for your mission by such testing! If so, please drop a line or leave a comment to let us know.

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  • Cindie Alwood

    Is there any data to show whether a letter or postcard works the same? What about a letter that does not have the donor's name on it, it just says thank you and why?
  • Steven Shattuck

    I don't think you can ever go wrong starting an appeal with a thank you!
  • Anne Marie Watson

    Thanks for the thoughtful piece, as always. A second mailing is out of our reach, financially and most of our demographic prefers snail mail, not e-mail. I wonder if an opening paragraph giving thanks as part of the direct mail letter is as effective or nearly so? That is our regular practice and our average donation is above industry average, Anne Marie Watson Durham and Community Health Care Foundation
  • Laura Kaufman

    Thanks for this information, Jay. I'm wondering if any testing was done to see if a pure email thank you was as effective. Did the thank you have to come by snail mail? For small to mid-size nonprofits with limited bandwidth it may not be possible to send a letter by US mail to their whole list, but they could certainly email everyone. Laura Kaufman Partners in Effective Philanthropy
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