04 Dec Testing and Learning and Generational Differences
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
From my In-Box this week:
I still get a lot of one-page letters with graphics and donation tear-off sections at the bottom. In fact, I donate to these groups and lean towards this letter because it is short, concise and to the point; and it doesn’t expend more resources. Do you think that there is a tendency for some generations to give to different style letters? My staff think that it would be more helpful to develop a letter that would tell them exactly how we plan to use the dollars such as a fundraising goal amount and what we need the money for. Any thoughts?
Lots to get into here, and I’ll share my response point by point.
I still get a lot of one-page letters with graphics and donation tear off sections at the bottom.
You see a lot of these letters because they’re popular. But being popular does not make them more effective.
Show someone two different letters. One is “designed” with embedded photos and colorful graphics. The other is plainer – more like a real typewritten letter, and maybe there’s a highlight color – like blue. But in the second letter, the graphic elements only relate to text – bold, italics, type size, indents, and so on.
Ask her which one she likes, and more often than not, she will point to the one with colorful graphics. Now, mail these two letters to 500 prospective donors each. Which do you think generates more responses? Which one raises more money?
My hypothesis is that the plainer letter will generate more responses and raise more money. But you should test it for yourself.
Now let’s talk about the number of pages and the tear-off coupon. Sometimes, fundraising letters are created to serve different purposes. Renewal letters, for example, are often short and sweet – one page – with a tear-off coupon at the bottom. The purpose of the letter is to alert the donor that it’s been a year.
Appeal letters – letters asking someone to make a first-ever gift, or to make a second gift in the same year – are very different. In general, they will generate a larger response and raise more money if they are longer.
I donate to these groups and lean towards this letter because it is short, concise and to the point; and it doesn’t expend more resources.
OK, so we need to be careful here: We drink water. Everyone drinks water. So at least in that particular sense, we are all the same. But beyond such absolutes, it is dangerous to assume that everyone is just like us. What we like, or lean toward, might be very different from what other people like or lean toward.
There’s another big factor here that determining what we like or lean toward fails to address. Presumably, we give to organizations because we believe in their mission – because we want to support what they’re doing. Not because of their chosen media.
Just because someone prefers one type of letter does not necessarily imply that they would not respond to another. It’s very difficult to accept emotionally, but what matters here is that you are sending letters to several hundred people, if not several thousand. What one particular person in that group prefers is irrelevant. What matters is crafting a letter that people in general will respond to.
If you were sending a letter to just one person, you would absolutely use the type and style and message that matched what you knew about their preferences. But we don’t have time to tailor each letter to the specific preferences of each individual donor. And the best way to learn what more people will respond to is to test different things.
More on testing a bit later.
Do you think that there is a tendency for some generations to give to different style letters?
I really don’t have a strong opinion on this. Again however, what I think is irrelevant.
First, it’s irrelevant because most organizations can’t segregate our databases by generation anyway. Let’s say that you wanted to create a letter aimed at young people between 25 and 40. And presumably, another letter aimed at people in their 40s and 50s, and so on. Unless you have that information in your database, you won’t know who to send which letter.
Second, generational differences are not as predictive as many would like to believe. In other words, there are more significant differences within each generation than there are between generations. That kind of makes using generational generalities (like that?) a rabbit hole. Show me people who love to fly fish and I can make a lot of valid assumptions about what they have in common and the messages they will respond to – regardless of their age. Show me a list of people who are between 25 and 40, and it’s much nearer to a total crap shoot.
Third, the fact that I personally haven’t seen these kinds of differences should not imply that I won’t. Maybe there’s something out there that all direct marketers are missing. And some things do change – or more accurately they evolve.
Fourth, most of the philanthropy in the US is still driven by men and women who are more than 60 years old. So, to some extent, whether or not we believe there are predictive differences shouldn’t matter.
And fifth, opinions should never substitute for science. My opinion is that the kind of fundraising that works for long-term sustainable organizations hasn’t changed much in my lifetime. This opinion is supported both by what I’ve read and by what I’ve tried (tested) personally.
This makes me opinionated. It doesn’t make me right.
My staff think that it would be more helpful to develop a letter that would tell them exactly how we plan to use the dollars such as a fundraising goal amount and what we need the money for. Any thoughts?
Yes I do – test it.
Experiment: Letter A (Control) is a fundraising letter that uses a story to illustrate how donor contributions have made a difference in some way. Letter B (Test) is a fundraising letter that tells people exactly how we plan to use the dollars – what we need the money for – and includes a fundraising goal amount.
The total mailing list is divided into two demographically identical halves. (I have a methodology for this if you need one.) Letter A is sent to one half, and Letter B is sent to the other half.
Hypothesis: Letter B will raise more money (or generate more individual responses – NOT the same thing) than Letter A.
I would be wary of two things in such experiments. First, that if a small membership is built from a relatively homogeneous interest group – fly fishermen, for example, or birders – you may have trouble extrapolating what you learn to a larger population. And second, that testing and learning needs to be a regular feature of all of your mail activities – not just a single test and off we go.
In my example, I proposed splitting the list into two parts. You could also split it into four or five and let the test file represent only 20-25% of the total. So if you find something that works really well for you, you don’t have to commit half the file to something else every year.
Regardless of what you are testing, I’d love to know what you are trying and what you are learning. I pledge to write stories here on this blog about the information you send me, so we can all learn from your experience.
Cheers, and have a good week!
Photo by CloudVisual courtesy of Stocksnap.io.