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As direct marketers, we’re always on a quest to find the next big breakthrough: a useful premium, an innovative new packaging concept, or retail products that can be ‘direct mail-ified’ to beat our controls. It’s a constant hunt. But too often we lose sight of the forest for the trees and miss the small tweaks, the low-hanging fruit that can have a huge impact on bottom-line results.

At Innovairre, we have a specialized team called CSI, for Creative Strategy & Innovation, which has evaluated thousands of direct mail tests. Our analysis proves that it’s frequently the little things that have the biggest impact on fundraising success.

Try this quick exercise:

Put on your donor hat for a moment, and pick up your seed or sample. What’s the first thing you notice… address block, size, postage? Certainly variables like heavier paper stocks or adding a foil seal or sticker can lift response. But we’ve also seen no-cost tweaks like a simple carrier color-change generate more than a 50% decrease in cost to acquire, or a well placed teaser lift response by 25%.

Now open your sample or seed. Is the letter personalized to you? Imagine you’re reading through 70-year-old eyes. Is the font large and easy to read? And if you’ve been a loyal donor, does the letter recognize that and make you feel appreciated? Something as simple as acknowledging that the donor has been a “loyal supporter since ____” can lift response by 20%. And calling out that a donor contributed to the same campaign the prior year has increased response by 4% with no impact on cost.

What about your premiums? Were they inserted in a logical way so any embellishments or personalized items were easy to see? Does the letter explain why you’re receiving this tote bag or calculator or member card, and does the reasoning make sense? Sometimes simply updating a long-standing control premium with a fresh design at no added cost can produce a significant lift. So too does alternating premium artwork with the season, which we’ve seen lift revenue close to 20%.

Now get ready to make a donation. Are the reply device and envelope easy to find in the package? Is there room to actually write your credit card number and other info on the reply card? What about your email address? Is there ample space to write it down, or is it a tiny little line on the back that you’d be hard-pressed to write your first name in, let alone your whole email address? And what if you wanted to become a monthly donor… is there an easy and intuitive way to indicate that? The reply device is arguably the most important component in the package, but too frequently we just “pick up the prior year” design without giving it the attention it deserves. We recently saw an oversized reply device lift revenue more than 5% and received anecdotal feedback from the client that many more donors filled in their email addresses and wrote comments than typically do with the smaller control reply device.

These are just some of the many questions we should be asking as we audit our packages. Because it’s the little things that can have the biggest impact.

Now for the finale. Actually make that donation. Keep track of your experience. How quickly are you thanked? Do you feel appreciated? Are subsequent mailings targeted to you in a logical way? We should all know what the donor experience is like for our clients, and there’s no better way to do that than to become a donor. It will make us smarter marketers, and more importantly, bring our clients one step closer to finding the cure or providing a hot meal or generally making this world a better and brighter place for us all.

Mimi Krueger is an Account & Marketing Director at Innovairre Communications, which supports more than 500 nonprofit organizations around the world. To learn more about results-based fundraising strategy, contact us at Answers@Innovairre.comand follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.