CASE STUDY: The Children’s Hospital at Westmead

Are you adding digital to your direct mail appeals? You should. Here’s why.

By Lachlan Dale, Digital Strategist


It’s a question we hear often: our direct mail appeals seem to work fine. Why should we add digital into the mix?

The principle is a simple one and can be found in the pages of any marketing textbook: by integrating additional channels into your campaign, you can increase both your reach and your conversion.

Or, to put this in fundraising-speak: by integrating digital channels like email, search and social media into direct mail appeals, you can increase both your overall response rate, and Return on Investment (ROI).

Let’s look at one of our recent campaigns as an example.

The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW) have a strong, established direct mail program – but when it came to this year’s tax campaign, we recommended they trial digital integration. Specifically, we recommended an email journey with a more strategic approach to data, personalisation and segmentation.

This was a fairly simple digital strategy, with low costs and low risk – but it enabled us to test the responsiveness of CHW’s supporters online.

What were the results?

The results were better than we had planned for.

The campaign tripled the target income, achieving an ROI of 11.9 for the digital arm of the campaign.

That means for every $1 spent, CHW received $11.90 in return.

But the value goes beyond short-term financial gain: The Children’s Hospital at Westmead now know there is considerable untapped potential sitting in their database – and they have the confidence to continue to develop their digital programs.

Why did it work?

1. The low cost of digital means we were able to target more people than a direct mail campaign. We segmented email journeys according to the other communications people were receiving, and personalised communications based on prior giving behaviour.

2. Digital provides the opportunity for a media-rich experience, and lower barriers to conversion. Certainly older donors with a long history of filling out paper forms might be used to that experience, but this won’t be true for all your donors – especially younger ones. And it’s important to allow people to donate where they feel most comfortable.

3. Integrating direct mail with digital gives more opportunities for conversion. There is a synergy that comes with a multi-channel approach: direct mail donors receive additional prompts via email, thereby increasing the direct mail response rate. The benefits of integration work both ways.

Multi-channel integration is a long game

Trialling simple integrations like this is an easy way to start the move into the digital space – and the benefits go beyond the short-term.

It’s useful to think of the digital space as an eco-system: new life needs to be continually introduced and nurtured so that they can grow and transform.

While you may not necessarily have a database of highly-engaged leads, this is only a short-term problem as there are plenty of strategies available to address this.

But equally, if you bring in a large number of leads, but fail to develop and engage them, their potential value will decline and the opportunity will be lost. This is why it’s important to establish and optimise the various programs that make up a digital pipeline.

The importance of this isn’t hypothetical: already we are seeing non-digital forms of giving declining as an overall percentage. Digital, in the meantime, is on the rise.

Pareto’s industry benchmarking work has demonstrated this growth:

And who can forget that in 2016 US Presidential election campaign, Bernie Sanders raised more than $200 million USD online?

But of course that doesn’t mean you can dump all your other fundraising channels in favour of the digital world.

Operating in multiple channels and providing many ways to engage and to give is the key to reaching donors.

If a donor receives a letter and gives online, that donor becomes worth more to your charity. Donors connected to you through multiple points give more than donors connected through only one channel. They also have better conversion rates. And higher retention rates.

To increase your online giving you need to continue to invest in direct mail and other traditional sources of fundraising revenue. And, as The Children’s Hospital at Westmead found, the more integrated the message across channels, the better fundraising results you will see.

The organisations that start developing their digital programs early will find they have the skills, resources and leads to take advantage of the rising tide. Those who don’t might find themselves being left behind.

Comments: 2

  • Jill Ford
    November 6, 2018 7:22 pm

    While integration is impt – and has been in marketing for years. There are many ‘new’ charities for whom the only communication is via digital, eg Kiva, Blue Dragon, Room to Read – these are just 3 of the several online charities I support,there are many more. None of which ever send me a DM but their digital is effective and so I donate. I would much rather charities stopped sending me endless DM and used the money for their cause. It would make more sense for charities to ASK when someone first donates HOW they would like to hear from them.
    Research shows those who donate first online generally prefer online comms, yet I still have to fill in my address when I donateonline ( I NEVER send a cheque) and charities end up with lots of wasted mail going in the bin.

    • Lachlan Dale
      November 26, 2018 6:37 am

      I absolutely agree Jill: there are plenty of cases where NGOs don’t have a database of historic direct mail donors, and where it makes sense to focus purely on digital acquisition.

      Acknowledging channel preference is important too. Like you, I’ve lost count of the number of direct mail pieces I receive — but I’ve only ever donated online! (Well, and perhaps an occasional face-to-face or phone donation.)

      There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all, but donor preference and donor experience should be at the heart of all decision-making.

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