Sending direct mail readers online to give really works (sometimes)!

Last December, Masterworks helped Focus on the Family execute a three-part test of driving donors online via calls to action in direct mail. We hypothesized that directly measured response to the direct mail appeals might go down, but that overall giving would go up because more people would choose to give online instead.

Here are the results of that test.

Test: Integrating double the number of digital calls to action in direct mail

One question we asked ourselves is what would happen if we substantially increased the number of calls to action in direct mail to go online to give?


By increasing calls to action in direct mail to go online to give, we would drive down the response rate to direct mail specifically, but would drive UP the overall effective response rate because more people would give online.

Test Methodology:

Three different creative approaches to driving donors online to give across three direct mail appeals in a year-end fundraising campaign. Control versions included standard online calls to action (response device, letter footer), while test versions had substantially more online calls to action on every piece (carrier, response device, letter copy, return envelope).

Summary of results:

Driving donors online in direct mail works. BUT it requires the right approach. If done incorrectly, it can depress giving. It must be done strategically and with the right call to action. Two kits in the series played with more engaging/clever ways to leverage the drive to online giving (watch the video, tell us what family ministry has meant to you), and either fell flat or actually depressed giving. However, the kit where we were very clear and direct with many calls to action generated an 84% higher effective response rate — giving to both the direct mail kit and online increased when we doubled the online calls to action.


More detail:

The first test mailing did not lift online giving. Instead, trying to drive donors online suppressed direct mail response, resulting in a response rate 14% lower than the control (and at a 100% confidence level).
The second test mailing fell flat. It didn’t suppress overall giving, but neither did it seem to positively influence people to respond at a higher rate.
The third mailing with heavy online calls to action generated a higher overall effective response rate by getting more people to give, no matter the channel. In fact, our test panel generated an 84% higher effective response rate, and at a 100% level of confidence. Even better, the test panel with all the online calls to action had a higher response rate when just looking at direct mail attributed response (1.41% for the test vs 0.74% for the control) — so the online calls to action didn’t suppress giving via direct mail, either.
This is a bright spot!

We have theories why mailing #1 was hurt, mailing #2 fell flat, and mailing #3 created a huge lift:

  1.   In mailing #1, we played a lot on the message to “go online to watch the video.” Our hypothesis is that this wasn’t giving oriented, and suppressed both direct mail and online giving.
  2.   In mailing #2, we had a more straightforward call to action to give online, but it was muddied a bit with an invitation to “tell us what family ministry has meant to you.” This may have hurt fundraising.
  3.   In mailing # 3, the last chance mailing, we took advantage of a natural reason many people give online: the end of the calendar year! That natural momentum might have played a big role in why our messaging resonated so well with donors: “Oh yeah, I SHOULD give online!”
  4. In the last chance mailing, we didn’t distract donors with other reasons to go online (watch a video or tell us why). In the last chance, we were clear: give online because it’s fast and your gift will get to work faster!

We are continuing to test pushing people online in direct mail.
How about you? Have you tested online integration in direct mail or other traditional channels? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!

As always, I’m happy to answer any questions you might have — email me at Or you can always catch up with me on Twitter — @daveraley.
Dave Raley