August 15, 2007
Case Study

Email vs Postal Mail Test: How One Organization Lifted ROI 30%

SUMMARY: Not every fundraiser uses email (alone or as part of their marketing mix), but it's a tactic worth testing -- especially with rising printing and mailing costs, not to mention lagging response rates.

See how one organization pitted a series of emails against their usual direct mail package and tripled the number of donors and walkers for their annual fundraiser. Using email, they signed up three times as many participants and increased ROI 30%.
“Television, radio and traditional word of mouth had always been our primary areas of outreach,” says Patricia Renzulli, VP, National Philanthropic Trust's Breast Cancer 3-Day. “Due to the built-in forwarding capabilities of email, we thought it was worth exploring.”

In previous years, Renzulli and her team had used postal direct mail in conjunction with mass advertising -- TV, radio, billboards and newspapers -- to promote their three-day, 60-mile-walk fundraiser, which is allied with the Susan G. Komen Walk for the Cure. Yet, data suggested that mail wasn’t performing like an optimal companion channel.

She wondered whether email would provide the bounce they weren’t getting from postal mail any more. Signing up new participants isn’t easy because walkers have to commit to raising a minimum of $95, so Renzulli also wanted to determine whether email could be used effectively to draw first-donors and event walkers.

Since the sign-up process begins six months before the actual walks take place, Renzulli and her team got to work on the email and postal campaigns.

Here are the six steps they followed to create the email program and test it against postal mail:

-> Step #1. Build prospect list

Because this was an acquisition campaign, they tapped their normal list sources to get hundreds of thousands of direct mail names as well as co-registration charity lists that they had affiliations with. Then, they followed the same procedure to build an email list with a similar number of addresses.

-> Step #2. Email message and subject lines

Next, they emailed a series of four story-driven messages to the names on their email list. The first email went out eight weeks before the registration deadline. This was followed up with another email every two weeks. The emails used pink in the backgrounds, and the images in each message inclusively represented women of different ages and ethnicities.

Subject lines were written to reflect the storylines in the email. In order, those were:
#1. Go From Ordinary To Extraordinary ... In Only 3 Days!
#2. Make Friends for Life … IN ONLY 3 DAYS
#3. Seize the Date: Get a Free Breast Cancer 3-Day Calendar
#4. Find Your Inner Hero

-> Step #3. Suppress names of participants who signed up

Preserving their brand reputation was of supreme importance, so to avoid inundating recipients who donated or signed up to walk, they set up the system to immediately suppress those email addresses and not email them again.

-> Step #4. Direct mailers

For the postal mail piece, they followed what they had mailed in previous years and sent a three-panel self-mailer about two weeks after the email campaign began. Three weeks later, they mailed another three-panel mailer using different imagery.

The core presentation and messaging was the same for both the postal mail and email. Consumers on either list also were being exposed to TV, radio, newspaper and billboard promos.

-> Step #5. Track results

To determine the email ROI compared to direct mail, they added a match-back system so they could track conversions. “Attaining a healthy ROI was and will always be crucial to an organization like ours,” Renzulli says.

-> Step #6. Hold focus groups

Renzulli and her team also wanted to measure what kind of name recognition the campaign was generating, so they set up small focus groups in each city that the walks were taking place. “Because there are events with similar names, such as ‘Komen Race For The Cure,’ we wanted to evaluate our name recognition against the other events.”
Well, email prospecting worked wonders for the Breast Cancer 3-Day cause. Nearly three times as many consumers who received the email series became walkers or donors than those who received the two postal mail pieces.

Even with the increase in campaign spending compared to last year, their ROI increased 30%. The walks that have occurred so far have been smash hits. “We have had 2,000 walkers and raised $5.5 million in the two cities we’ve visited so far,” Renzulli says. “We are certainly on the path to meet or exceed our goals.”

In terms of the emails metrics for charity prospecting, clickthrough rates have averaged around 18% and open rates have been 6.5%.

Anecdotal evidence gathered in the focus groups indicate that email helped increase their name recognition, too. “We wouldn’t have seen the success we’ve had without this layered strategy,” Renzulli says. “I think the email reinforcement was a great part of it.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from National Philanthropic Trust Breast Cancer 3-Day email series:

AcquireWeb - provided the email data, executed the deployment and administered the matchback system:

Eclipse DM - contributed the email strategy, provided the online acquisition list sources and conversion analysis reporting:

RadarWorks - the marketing agency spearheading the overall campaign:

Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Breast Cancer 3-Day:

National Philanthropic Trust:

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