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Felicia Setyabudi, Donor Acquisition & Marketing Coordinator at Médecins Sans Frontières, Australia, reveals why it is crucial for charities to maintain their direct mail acquisition channels.

Felicia Setyabudi, Donor Acquisition & Marketing Coordinator at Médecins Sans Frontières, Australia, reveals why it is crucial for charities to maintain their direct mail acquisition channels.


direct mailAcquisition has always been a challenge for many Australian nonprofits. With the shifting trend towards digital media, direct mail has become a smaller part of acquisition campaigns in many organisations, including Médecins Sans Frontières Australia.

Nevertheless, benchmarking by Pareto Fundraising shows direct mail recruits still have the highest five-year cash ratio in comparison to other channels’ recruits, which is why maintaining direct mail acquisition is still crucial.

From paediatrics to malnutrition

For our tax 2017 acquisition campaign, which had a mail date of 2 May and mail quantity of 20,000, our key objectives were to:

  • reach an average cash gift value of $100
  • achieve an overall 1% response rate
  • come up with a new acquisition pack in the most economical way
  • increase regular giving donor acquisition.

Set against campaign budget, target and timeline, we reviewed our past acquisition mail campaigns and applied any learnings to our new campaign. Since we were looking for a future replacement for our winning paediatrics themed acquisition pack, we also reviewed successful retention direct mail campaigns to come up with a new topic for the test pack only. For this campaign, we decided to go with malnutrition for the test pack.

Adapting a successful malnutrition insert from a past retention campaign allowed us to minimise the creative process, which would usually have involved further story material research and field worker interviews. A shorter creative process and procedure resulted in lower creative cost.

Good lead data and the gift ask

The main challenge in running an acquisition campaign is to find good lead data. This type of campaign can easily consume an excessive amount of money with a low return, especially when we obtain low quality lead data. In the past, we decided to lease a cheaper database, however we found we received what we paid for. Low price data means a low response rate.

In this campaign, which was different from previous years when we used external lists from a couple of mailing list providers as well as our own lead data, we only used our own lead and return to sender (RTS) segment data. The RTS data, proven to yield a good average cash gift rate, was treated as a non-addressed mailing. All data was deduped against existing donor data to ensure no existing donors were mistakenly being approached.

We have always segmented gift ask in retention campaigns. We tested this in our previous acquisition campaign and the result showed that segmentation of gift ask is worth applying to increase the average gift value. The test showed that RTS leads responded well – even to a higher gift ask. In this campaign, we segmented the gift ask accordingly where the new leads were asked for $50 while the RTS leads were asked for $100.

In the past, a gift ask test on regular giving versus one-off cash did not result in favour of regular giving. Therefore, this time we set the main call to action for prospects to give a one-off cash gift yet we still provided an option in the response mechanism to opt in as a regular giving donor.

We are glad we made the decision: 7.8% of the total donor number decided to opt in as regular giving donors straightaway. This is an opportunity that we would have lost if the regular giving option was not provided.

Campaign results

The campaign, however, did not achieve a perfect result. It reached 90% of the targeted one-year value revenue at $18,517 but the response rate of 0.45% fell below 50% of the targeted response rate of 1%. In terms of the average cash gift, the campaign went beyond the targeted $100 platform by reaching the average cash gift of $199.53. As per regular gift, the average gift was $23.29.

An interesting finding to note was that 15% of the total dollar donations that were triggered by this direct mail campaign came through our website. We will be monitoring whether such a pattern of digital share of direct mail triggered donation increases over the years. We had believed that malnutrition would be a good topic for an acquisition campaign because it has also worked well in other international Médecins Sans Frontières offices. However, this was not the case with this campaign.

The tested malnutrition pack performed 18% below the control pack. There are many factors to consider when a direct mail pack does not perform well. In other words, the topic might not be the reason for the disappointing result. The drawback in the test result would not hinder us from doing further testing. Testing is always critical in direct marketing. Continuous testing will allow us to improve various aspects of a mailing.

Previously, we had run various tests, including outside envelope, gift ask and gift type ask. We would then roll out the successful result in the following year. Some tests which did not work in the past might be worth retesting after several years because various situational factors may have changed.

In this campaign, our own lead data performed better than the RTS with an at least 40% better response rate. This is quite pleasing to know because it means the lead that we obtained from our petition campaigns as well as our direct mail ‘get-a-map’ lead generation campaigns worked well. The result challenges us to create more lead generation campaigns to feed our acquisition funnel in the future.  Although the campaign did not provide a breakthrough, it did achieve a couple of our objectives. We can confidently say we will continue to provide a regular gift option in our response mechanism and maintain segmentation on gift ask and at the same time continue to test various ideas to improve our campaign performance.

Felicia Setyabudi

Felicia works at Médecins Sans Frontières Australia as Donor Acquisition & Marketing Coordinator. She has an interest in marketing and data analytics and has previously worked in the direct marketing of Reader’s Digest.

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