Direct mail

Using URLs in Direct Mail

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Thanks to Mike Linnemann from the University of Minnesota Foundation, and Tom Ahern, donor communications expert whose recent Twitter conversation inspired this blog.

Direct mail is the largest source of new donors in most fundraising markets.

Yet, even with an average age of 70-80, depending on the country, many of these donors are online as well.

So, should we include convenient URLs for donors in our direct mail letters?


Sean triner blog pic 1


URL on a response coupon – in the ‘To Make a Gift’ section.

The answer seems obvious. Of course, we should! If we do, we see a big spike in online donations.

But is that the right answer?

A good few years ago we tested including URL on the donation form and in the PS of a direct mail letter.

Something like:

In this A v B test, half of letters (A) included the URL, half (B) didn’t.

Unsurprisingly, there were more donations made online from the A Group – people who were given the URL, than from the B Group.

Whenever you send direct mail, there is usually a spike in donations to the standard donation page on

However, with volumes usually being very small, it is hard to make valid conclusions.

The correct measure for the test, because this was a warm (house) mailing going to previous donors is: “Does adding a URL to my direct mail letter increase total net income from the group who got the URL?”

Any other measures, like how many donations were made online, average donation and response rates, are all variables contributing to that single question.

In the test the answer was….


Adding the URL reduced total income. Although the A group gave more online, their total giving (including off and online) was less than the B Group.

Adding a URL to my direct mail letter reduced total net income.

Why? What was going on?

My theory is simple.

A good direct mail letter is designed to trigger an emotional response and get the recipient to do something now.

With the standard letter, we asked them to fill in the form, right now, pop it into the enclosed postage-paid envelope and post today.

That’s probably what they have done before, which is why they are on our direct mail warm (house) file.

With the letter that included the URL, we added an extra option, such as, ‘Or you can make a donation online at…’.

What happened was that the 25% or so who had opened the letter and felt motivated enough to give either fill the form there and then (yay!) or put the letter aside with 100% intention to donate when they were online.

The problem is (or was) that they would then have to do stuff to log on – like turn on their computer.

Precious time would pass between their desire to donate and the actual act. And that time would eat into response rates.

Of course, these days with three or four times the mobile penetration than when we tested it (four years ago) many can indeed donate online straight away.

But remember, the average age of a direct mail donor? Hmmm, what proportion of people that age can donate straight away online?

The answer: I just don’t know. Please, someone, test it!

The first charity to send me the results of testing this properly:

A true A/B test looking at whether adding a URL to letter, PS and/or response form statistically increases net income will get a donation of US$150/AUD$150/ €150 from me if they let me post the results.


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