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FundraisingDonor Psychology

VIDEO: Adrian Sargeant on the Most SHOCKING Thing I’ve Learned from Fundraising Testing

I asked professor Adrian Sargeant of The Philanthropy Centre about the most shocking thing he’s learned in fundraising testing.

Here’s what he told me:

Blokes don’t seem to care about morality.

I’ll leave it at that because you’ll enjoy what he has to say. Let’s just say there’s a gender gap between men and women and issues of morality and philanthropy!

And there’s at least one positive takeaway you can get from this research and use in your fundraising!

Enjoy this quick and informative video!

Have you seen this or other “gender gaps” in fundraising? Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below. We’d love to learn from your experience.

CFRE Points:
When Is Testing NOT Worthwhile in Fundraising?

VIDEO: Sean Asks Adrian Sargeant: When Is Testing NOT Worthwhile in Fundraising?

I recently had Professor Adrian Sargeant of The Philanthropy Centre on the line, so I asked a quick, but a very important question:

When should a fundraiser NOT bother with testing?


We go on and on about the importance of testing, and yet there are many times when testing is a complete waste of time, money, and energy. And it can teach us nothing at all … or worse yet, give us the wrong information.

Here’s when you should not test:

  • When the number of donors you’re working with is too small to give you statistically significant results. When your number is too small, there’s more noise than signal. You stand a high chance of getting a false reading.
  • When the notion you’re testing is already well established by other similar fundraisers.
  • When it’s not clear what you’re trying to discover.

You’ll find Adrian clears the air on this difficult and complicated topic!

Find out even more about what it takes to raise money through the mail. Take the Moceanic online masterclass, 7 Steps To Creating Record-Smashing Direct Mail with Jeff Brooks. Click here to join The Fundraisingology Lab, and you can be taking the course within just a few minutes.

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Direct mail
Digital FundraisingDirect Mail

Using URLs in Direct Mail

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: www.charityname.com.au/BetsyAppeal.

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 www.charityname.com.au.

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.


CFRE Points:
Pop art letter with quill
Bequests and LegaciesDirect MailDonor Love

How to Write a Thank You Letter

First question: should you even bother? The anecdotal evidence for thank you letters is huge – many donors say they like them. Lots of opinion research shows that donors are more likely to give if ‘they know what their money was spent on’.

However, there is little data that we have access to that demonstrates that general thank you letters actually increase net lifetime value. Few charities have tested sending thank you letters to half their donors versus no thank yous for others – especially since it needs to be followed through for a minimum of 18 months, but preferably longer.

Without solid data, most charities make the decision based on policy or gut instinct. We know that gut instinct is often wrong though. For example, gut instinct (and donor feedback) contradicts the fact that generally, longer letters beat shorter and more mailings = better lifetime value.

We know that bequest income for many charities can raise more than direct mail donations, and a big influence on bequests is the relationship with the donor. So maybe being nice, despite a lack of evidence, is not a bad thing. Even though we can’t prove that our lovely thank you letters helped secure some of those bequests.

On balance, despite working at a data-led organisation, and despite the evidence, I reckon writing thank you letters is a good thing to do.

So let’s be nice to donors.

Hang on! Don’t rush and write thank you letters yet…

What I am not convinced about is whether there should never be an ask in a thank you letter. Lots of fundraising book authors say there should be no ask – but the evidence they present is what donors say they want, and not what actually has been proven to increase lifetime value.

I think, in an emergency, there definitely should be another ask for example, following a fire, flood, earthquake disaster).

But other than that I am not sure.

Despite all these warnings… if you are going to write a thank you letter – write a good one!

So, assuming we are writing a thank you letter that just thanks and does not ask, then these are the key ingredients for such a letter.

The letter should be correct. Get the name and details right. For higher value donors, if there is any doubt, call and check the details.

The letter should be personal – mailmerged, and extra personal touches where possible. Never “Dear Friend”. Apply the Pareto principle, more personalised for higher value donors.

Personalised data should be:

1. Amount donated (“Thank you for your donation of $50 in response…”).

2. Acknowledgement of recent gifts (“I note that have supported before this year – your ongoing commitment is really appreciated…”).

3. Acknowledge other types of support (not necessarily them all, but certainly most recent). “This donation, along with you telling me that you have mentioned in your will tells me that you have a special place in your heart for”.

4. Other information, even if used before. “Thanks also for completing the survey earlier this year – I remember that you ticked that you first supported because of. I just wanted to make sure you knew that your donation will go straight to our work in that area…”.

5. Anything else personal that you know for top donors. “I look forward to seeing you at the – I have just been told that you are attending”.

6. The letter should actually say “Thank you for donating…”. Unless in response to unsolicited donations, the letter should be tailored to the campaign the person responded to. “Thank you for your donation in response to my letter about Jane, who is recovering after a horrific car accident on Christmas Day”.

7. The letter should be interesting (!) Update on the story that was in the campaign, have a quote from the case study or give some feedback on what others have said or done. “You will be pleased to know that, thanks to the support of you and loving and caring Australians, Jane has now made an amazing recovery. In October she walked to her local café for the first time since the accident…”.

8. Should be personal (as well as personalised). The above line would be improved with more personality: “Since I sent my letter to you in September, I caught up with Jane again, along with her physiotherapist, Philip, who is funded by your donations. I was brought to tears when the pair of them were telling me how, in early October, she managed to walk to her local café. She wanted me to share her thanks with you…”.

Of course, writing this much will likely take you to more than one page. Ho hum, if you are going to do it – do it properly.

And of course, nothing wrong with testing the rules above against no thank you letter against thank you letters with asks in them… For at least 18 months!

If you want to learn more about about fundraising communications and how to get the best results from your direct mail program, check out our online course 7 Steps To Creating Record-Smashing Direct Mail. It’s available for all members of The Fundraisingology Lab.

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