The morning’s mail brought this from a loyal Agitator subscriber:

“Team Agitator – I am doing some research for a client about how response rates on acquisition are impacted by packages that ask prospects to take an action in addition to giving a gift. E.g. signing or mailing a postcard to an elected official, making a call for or against a piece of legislation, sending a holiday greeting card for a client back with their gift, handing out a card to refer someone for services. How do the response rates and average gifts compare between packages? Is there a name for this tactic?”
Sue S.

Dear Sue,

The “tactic” is known as “involvement.” More and more our research on significant trends affecting acquisition, loyalty and retention indicate that increasing numbers of today’s donors not only want, but expect, some sort of involvement in the mission of the organizations they support.

Enter a tried and true repertoire of proven involvement devices ranging from petitions to postcards to messages of support, and even the creation of donor-made videos and social network pages.

You ask, how do these devices affect results in direct mail acquisition efforts? (Or for that matter, response in online, telemarketing, print or any other channel). As a general rule (and remember all general rules are subject to testing and exceptions), involvement devices add positively to the bottom line.

In my experience with advocacy organizations, including a petition, referendum, or postcard that’s relevant to the cause for which funds are sought generally increases response rates by 15-20%, and decreases average gifts between 5 and 15%. And the same goes for charitable organizations and the use of relevant involvement devices in that sector.

Where acquisition programs are concerned, this can spell a significant financial difference. For example, let’s assume a package without an involvement device costs $600 a thousand to mail, and produces a 1% paid response with a $30 average gift. That means 10 contributions averaging $30 each for a total of $300. Thus the net cost or investment per newly acquired donor is $30. ($600 cost minus $300 income = $300 ‘loss’ divided by 10 new donors = $30 investment or ‘loss’ per donor.)

With an effective involvement device, the results could mean a higher response rate (let’s say 1.2% or 12 donors per thousand pieces mailed), and a slightly lower average gift (let’s say $27). The net result: 12 new donors contributing $324 for a net ‘loss’ or investment of $276 or $23 per newly acquired donors. In short, more donors, representing more future income, at less cost.

Where donor development or house file programs are concerned, involvement devices can help instill a greater sense of participation in your donors. Why? Because they’re a real slice-of-life representing the work of the organization the donor supports. And when a donor can truly see what an organization is doing, and better yet actually participate in making something happen, loyalty and satisfaction go up, and retention increases. All that equals a better bottom line.

Although I’ve used direct mail to illustrate the point, the same holds true regardless of the channel. E-mail appeals are more effective with relevant involvement devices, as are telemarketing calls, and social network fundraising pages.

And, Sue, always remember, the folks we write or email to, or reach on the phone, are not just bits of data on some computer. They’re alive with real dreams and aspirations, just like you and I. The techniques or tactics we use are only effective if they reflect the donor’s aspirations.


P.S. Hopefully, Sue, other Agitator readers can add to this or disagree. I hope they’ll share their experiences too.

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