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The Role Online Giving Can Play in Your Direct Mail Fundraising Success

In recent years, made, even more, apparent by the current economic downturn, it has become increasingly obvious that not all “issues” with direct mail fundraising can be solved/addressed by direct mail alone.

The reading and buying habits of Americans are changing rapidly. The percentages of consumers using mail to communicate, purchase items, research a topic or interest, even pay bills – is declining. These patterns have impacted fundraising, and it is important that every non-profit pay close attention to this changing donor “need” – at least in some portions of their files.

Many clients have begun to use email as a relationship tool. Some also send direct appeals via email messages. Those that utilize email to support a traditional direct mail program tend to measure their online and direct mail programs separately. Online marketing performance is a separate line item from direct mail.

However, it is very clear that each communications channel influences the other’s performance.

The simultaneous – or, at least, complementary — the use of at least two marketing channels and income streams usually has a profound impact on short and long-term donor retention and values.

The evidence suggests that email, the web, and direct mail fundraising, working together have a profound effect on short and long-term donor relationships. The difference appears to be in the combination of them vs. the singular strength of one income stream.

Simply put, email and direct mail work very well together, measurably better than direct mail alone or email alone.

Successful operation of a dual channel program requires a website presence with easily navigable on-line giving options.

Borns Group/VDM will provide counsel on how and when to use email to enhance and support your message and your brand. We will help the Foundation design and implement a strategic plan for using email to announce initiatives or to follow-up on an appeal.

Emails will also encourage donors to continue to make gifts via mail, or to visit the website and make contributions on-line. With the proper software applications, the email and/or direct mail program can contain links to personalized URLs or landing spots where the highest levels of personalization can be utilized in on-line/automated CRM tools.

Adding online donations to a direct mail only donor’s behavior or adding direct mail donations to an Online-Only donor is usually associated with increased gift frequency, increased gift value and increased donor value over 12 months.

Donors engaged through dual or multiple communication channels have higher long-term value, retention and lifetime value. This is the case if donors start as direct mail only donors or as online only donors. The evidence is mounting … the long term sustainability of donors acquired and/or retained via online or direct mail marketing tools are not necessarily dependent on the channel by which they originated.


Single channel Direct Mail Only (or Online Only) donors usually have long term values only half as much as the donors with Dual-Channel activity.


Dual-Channel donors usually demonstrate the highest retention rate, followed by Direct Mail Only and Online-Only … in that order. This suggests that in many cases an email program alone (no direct mail) results in the lowest retention levels, but that when it’s paired with direct mail it’s the highest.


The Dual-Channel donors usually have the highest lifetime values. Dual-Channel donors gave as much through direct mail sources as the direct mail only donors, indicating that the online channel does not cannibalize revenue from direct mail.

We have known for years about the “cannibalizing” influence that telephone fundraising can have on direct mail. And many larger non-profits that have utilized some form of DRTV have long ago built different levels of expectation in renewing telethon/radiothon and other DRTV donors by mail.

The advance of the web and email as fundraising tools are newer phenomena but have followed similar paths of acceptance and utilization in fundraising programs. With one very important difference … email and on-line giving usually do not show signs of cannibalizing a direct mail fundraising donor relationship. Marketing efforts using both channels usually show to be interchangeable.

A key reason for this is that donor constituents are increasingly operating in a “multi-channel mode”. For example, even if a direct mail piece asks for a response by mail, a donor – especially one considering a larger gift, may elect to first do further research online on the organization’s Web site. In this scenario, should the gift be credited to the online channel or direct mail?

He/she may also prefer to make an online gift.

Increasingly, donors who have traditionally given via direct mail have signed up for email communications and marketing programs. If donors continue to give via the mail but are influenced to continue or expand their support because of email updates and online engagement, how should the revenue credit be allocated?

Organizations savvy to this trend have started promoting specific URLs or Web page addresses to donors so that they can more easily track – and address – specific unique donor needs – and to gain insight to the source of the gift.

There is little question that online marketing can influence direct mail performance.

One Response so far.

  1. Janice says:

    Very informative post. Great pointers for those who need a donor by using direct mail. But, organizations need to follow instructions to get the trust of their donor.

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