test-tubes-shutterstock_414276505The number of charities in the U.S. in the last 20 years has boomed from around 650,000 in 1996 to over 1.5 million in 2016. This doubling of charities has led to increased competition for every dollar donated. Now more than ever, fundraisers have to find new ways to bring in donations to help their cause.

In terms of direct mail fundraising, there really is only one way to both improve your fundraising and stay ahead of the curve: testing. With more and more organizations sending mail to a limited donor pool, the importance of testing has become paramount to fundraising success.

For all of the clients that Innovairre serves as the fundraising agency, we try to test in every mailing. This ensures that in-market results are consistently optimized. Don’t get me wrong, tests lose to the control, and the same package could be the best for years, but each test provides valuable insights.

In 2016 alone, Innovairre ran hundreds of tests for our clients allowing us to make countless pivotal improvements.

Often these tests provide incremental boosts, but sometimes they can provide huge improvements from the control. I’ve seen tests that range from complete failures to 5x improvements. Even accounting for the tests that don’t win, the cost of testing doesn’t come close to the benefit winning tests can provide.

Further, there are more benefits to testing than the boost it provides over the control:

1. Successful tests help avoid package fatigue and the fundraising struggles that come with it.

2. Testing helps prevent other organizations from simply duplicating your ideas and mailing them out.

3. Testing signals to your donors that you’re working to improve and change.

The results of one example, taken from a charity we support, can be seen below:
This test went to a high-value section of the charity’s file. A simple change to the creative of the certificate led to a 27% increase in response rate. The average gift also improved, and potentially by more than the test would suggest due to the large gifts, which are generally unpredictable. These improvements led to a tripling of the net dollars per name, which equals an additional $30,000 going to that organization next year on this mailing alone.

While not every test provides this kind of change, it’s worth noting the impact from just one that does. And even smaller wins can lead to big differences in the scope of impact your organization has.

Another Innovairre mailing tested the creative being used in a calendar package. The control was “birds,” and the test was “puppies and kittens.” This large, but free, change led to response rate improving by 5%, average gift increasing by 9%, and net dollars per name for the package lifting by 20%. That once again represents so many extra dollars that can be used to save animals.

The more testing that an organization does, the more likely they are to find something that works for them, leading to more and more fundraising dollars going toward their cause. Testing everything, from creative tweaks to package changes, is the only way in today’s direct mail environment to stay ahead of the game and continue to improve every year.

Dean Schulhof is Chief Fundraising Officer of Innovairre Communications, which supports more than 500 nonprofit organizations around the world. Contact us at Answers@Innovairre.com, and follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter.