8 Things to Test in Direct Mail

Advanced, Direct Mail

By Jeremy Reis

Direct mail fundraising is a tried-and-true method for raising money for your cause. But with so many options and variables to consider, it can be difficult to know where to start. That’s why we’ve put together a list of 8 things you should test in your next direct mail campaign. By testing different elements and measuring the results, you can ensure that your campaign is as effective as possible. Here are 8 things to test in your next direct mail fundraising campaign:

1. The offer

One of the most important elements of any direct mail piece is the offer. What are you asking donors to do? Make sure that your offer is clear and concise, and that it is something that your audience will be interested in. You may want to test different offers to see which one resonates most with your audience.

There are several types of offers that you can test in your direct mail fundraising campaigns. Here are a few of the most common:

The ask amount: Asking for a specific amount of money is one of the most important factors in direct mail fundraising. You can test different ask amounts to see which results in the highest response rate and average gift size. For example, you might test an ask amount of $25 against an ask amount of $50.

The giving level: Donors are often motivated by recognition or exclusive benefits. You can test different giving levels to see which leads to the most generous gifts. For example, you might test a giving level of $100 against a giving level of $250.

The type of donation: You can also test different types of donations, such as unrestricted gifts or restricted gifts designated for a specific program. For example, you might test donating to an unrestricted fund against donating to a scholarship fund.

The length: The length refers to how long your message is. You can test different lengths to see which communicates your message more effectively. For example, you might test a one-page letter against a two-page letter.

The frequency: donors who give more frequently tend to be more loyal and have higher lifetime value than those who give less often. You can test different frequencies to find what works best for your audience. For example, you might test monthly giving against annual giving.

The topic: Another great test is different topics. For example, you might test a clean water offer vs a nutrition offer. This will help you develop a control – a fundraising direct mail appeal that works best for your nonprofit.

2. The format

The format of your direct mail piece can have a big impact on how well it performs. Are you sending a letter or a proposal? What type of envelope are you using? Are there any additional inserts? Testing different formats can help you determine which one gets the best results.

There are several different things you can test when it comes to the format of your direct mail piece. Some of the most common things to test are the following:

  • The type of envelope (window vs. no window)
  • The size of the envelope
  • The type of paper
  • The layout

Each of these elements can have a big impact on how well your direct mailpiece performs. That’s why it’s so important to test different combinations to see what works best for your particular audience.

One of the best ways to test different formats is to do a split test. This involves sending out two different versions of your direct mail piece to a small group of people (usually around 500). Half of the group will get one version, and half will get the other. Then, you can track which version performs better and use that information to make decisions about your future direct mail campaigns.

3. The level of giving

Depending on your audience, you may want to test different levels of giving. Some people may be more likely to give if they are asked for a smaller amount, while others may be more responsive to a higher ask. Testing different levels of giving can help you find the right balance for your audience.

Fundraisers are always looking for ways to increase giving levels. One way to do this is by testing different giving levels in your direct mail solicitations. This is commonly referred to as the gift matrix. By testing different giving levels, you can find the right mix of options that will maximize giving from your donor base. You can also try testing the order of the ask amounts. We have found in testing that listing the highest amounts in the gift matrix first can help lift donations.

4. The frequency

Another variable to consider is the frequency of your direct mail pieces. How often should you be sending them? Once a month? Once a week? More or less often? There is no right or wrong answer here, so it’s important to experiment to see what works best for your particular campaign.

5. Number of pages

Test different page counts and see what works best for your organization. A good starting point is to test two different page counts: one that’s shorter (one or two pages) and one that’s longer (three or more pages). From there, you can fine-tune your results by testing different variations of each page count. For example, if you’re testing a three-page letter, you might want to test a version with three short paragraphs on each page and another version with one long paragraph on each page.

6. Four-color outer envelope vs single color

When it comes to direct mail fundraising, the outer envelope is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. The right outer envelope can make all the difference in whether your mailing gets opened and read or goes straight into the trash. So how do you determine what color will work best for your outer envelope?

Besides driving the open rate of your mail, there’s another factor to consider. If you use a four-color envelope in the mail, some donors may believe you’re “wasting money” that could be spent on programs. It’s a factor you should consider before moving to a four-color envelope in your direct response campaign.

7. Type of photo

A well-chosen photograph can be one of the most powerful tools in your direct mail fundraising arsenal. People are visual creatures and a good photo can help your donors connect with your cause on a more emotional level.

One common test in mail is a photo showing a desperate-looking beneficiary vs a smiling, or hopeful, beneficiary. Another test is a color photo vs a black and white image. You will find that testing a variety of different types of can have a significant impact on response rates for your fundraising campaign.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of photos in your direct mail fundraising efforts. Showcasing different aspects of your work will not only help you connect with potential donors on a more emotional level, but it will also give you valuable insight into what resonates best with your audience.

8. The copy

One way to increase the effectiveness of direct mail fundraising is to test different content in your letters. This can be done by changing the focus of the letter, the tone, or the ask amount. By testing different content, you can see what resonates most with your donors and adjust your strategy accordingly.

There are several reasons why testing direct mail content is important. First, it allows you to track what works and what doesn’t work over time. Second, it helps you fine-tune your messaging so that it’s more effective. Third, it enables you to segment your list so that you’re only sending relevant information to those who are interested in receiving it. Finally, testing allows you to keep your donors engaged by offering them something new and fresh on a regular basis.

Keys to Testing Your Direct Mail Fundraising Campaign

Direct mail fundraising is all about making the right offer to potential donors. But how do you know if your offer is strong enough? The answer is simple: testing. By starting with a control group and then testing one variable at a time, you can ensure that your offer is as persuasive as possible before sending out your campaign.

Here are a few tips on how to test your direct mail offer:

1. Set a goal for your campaign.

The first step in measuring the success of your direct mail fundraising campaign is to set a goal. What are you hoping to achieve with your campaign? Are you trying to raise a specific amount of money? Or are you trying to increase donor engagement? Once you have a goal in mind, you can start to measure whether or not your campaign is successful.

2. Track response rates.

One way to measure the success of your direct mail fundraising campaign is to track response rates. Response rates will tell you how many people donated after receiving your direct mail piece. To calculate response rate, simply divide the number of donors by the number of pieces mailed. For example, if you mailed 1,000 pieces and received 100 donations, your response rate would be 10%.

3. Start with a control group.

Before you start testing different offers, it’s important to have a baseline to compare your results against. That’s where a control group comes in. A control group is a group of people who receive the same fundraising piece with no changes made to the offer. This allows you to see how your offer performs when nothing is changed.

4. Test one variable at a time.

Once you have a control group, you can start testing different offers by changing one variable at a time. For example, you could test different gift amounts or different asked amounts. By changing only one variable at a time, you’ll be able to isolate the effect that each change has on your results.

5. Use A/B testing.

A/B testing is a type of experimentation where two different versions of a fundraising piece are sent out, and the results are compared against each other. This is an effective way to test two different offers side-by-side and see which one performs better. There is another type of testing: multivariate testing. Multivariate testing allows you to compare multiple variables at once. It’s more complex and requires a much more advanced review of your results.

6. Analyze donor behavior.

Another way to measure the success of your direct mail fundraising campaign is to analyze donor behavior. Did donors who receive your direct mail piece donate more than they typically do? Did they donate sooner than they typically do? Did they continue to give even after the initial campaign ended? Analyzing donor behavior can give you valuable insights into whether or not your campaign was successful in engaging donors.

7. Analyze your results.

Once you’ve tested your offer, it’s important to take a close look at the results of your experiment in order to determine which offer was more successful. This analysis will help you fine-tune your offer so that it’s as persuasive as possible.


By testing different elements of your direct mail campaign, you can find out what works best for your organization and make sure that your fundraising efforts are as successful as possible. So don’t be afraid to experiment – it could make all the difference in meeting (and exceeding) your fundraising goals!


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