How Good Email Helps Direct Mail Results

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    It wasn’t that long ago that crusty-old-direct-mail-consultants were worried that email would cut into direct mail revenue. Consistent testing and a steady stream of anecdotes indicate that’s just not true.

    For the last ten years, I’ve been testing direct mail results and the impact of email messages. In one of the simplest and longest-running tests, I tested three segments of names against each other, all from the same pool of recent donors who were scheduled to receive a direct mail “house” appeal:

    Group A was comprised of recent donors with email addresses who were sent an email message just before they should have received a direct mail appeal.

    Group B was comprised of recent donors with email addresses, to whom we did not send the email message.

    Group C was the rest of the list – recent donors for whom we had no email address on file.

    The email message that was sent to the people in Group A was only a brief note saying “I have just mailed you a very important letter. It’s in a white business envelope with the words “[Insert envelope teaser copy here]” across the top. Please look for it.”

    That’s it. No link to give, nothing else. (I plan to test an upgraded pre-email message with an actual photo of the outer envelope).

    Group A had a direct mail response rate that was about 10% higher than Group B. No surprise. The pre-email probably resulted in more recipients somehow sorting that appeal envelope into the “open” pile rather than the “recycle” pile.

    But Group B, however, had a response rate that was in turn about 10% higher than that of Group C. Why? They received the same package at the same time, and neither had the advantage of the email message. They were from the same list of recent donors. Our theory? They had been well cultivated with email newsletters for the past several months, and that increased their response to this appeal.

    At a recent nonprofit conference, a major nonprofit announced similar findings: when they added email messaging to support direct mail, they got 5.7% response and a $29.25 average gift in the mail, v 3.65% and $21.12 from those who didn’t get the email — plus they got $4000 in online gifts!

    Would a post-email message improve direct mail results as much, or more, than a pre-email? Would both do even better? Ah, now you’re thinking.

    Rick Christ has been helping nonprofit organizations use the internet for fundraising, communications and advocacy since 2009, and has been a frequent writer on the subject. He delights in your questions and arguments. Please contact him at: or at his LinkedIn Page