Nathaniel Ward

No, your email fundraising probably isn’t cannibalizing your direct mail fundraising

Several years back, The Heritage Foundation conducted a substantial test to determine the effect of a multi-channel approach to fundraising.

We sought to definitively answer the question: are we better off sending just a direct mail letter, sending only emails, or sending both?

The real worry - one I’ve heard from other nonprofit fundraisers - was that sending emails alongside a letter would cannibalize the letter and reduce mail response. In other words, people would simply give online instead of through the mail.

So we took one of our best mailings and split it three ways: one segment got just a letter; one got a letter with no ask and an email; and one got both a letter and an email. The emails, which made an ask mirroring the mail piece, were timed to arrive shortly after the letters hit mailboxes.

Unfortunately, this test was never properly documented, and the results became the stuff of Heritage lore. Until now.

I dug up the data, and the results are astounding:

  1. Donors who got both direct mail and email saw a 60.5% lift in response rate in the mail compared to the mail-only group. The multichannel audience had a 23.9% response rate, compared to 14.9% for mail only.
  2. Donors who got just emails had a 90.6% lower response rate in the mail than the mail-only group. This audience had just a 1.4% response rate.

Not only that, people who got the multichannel treatment were also more likely to give online too. That means the worst option is to send people only email! More on that in another article.

This boost from multi-channel fundraising can be seen across the entire direct mail program. According to another study we ran, donors who receive emails give roughly 25 percent more annually than those who get only direct mail.

While we don’t necessarily expect these exact results in every campaign or for every organization, we can conclude that sending followup emails strengthens rather than cannibalizes direct mail.

By Nathaniel Ward on