Hemlock Society Boosts Donor Base by Experimenting

The Hemlock Society, a political and social-action organization that works for the right to die, has revitalized its direct mail acquisition through biannual mailings, careful list management and better packaging. In a little more than a year, the organization has seen almost a doubling of response rates and a $5 increase in average gift amount.

In 2000 the organization brought response rates up from less than 1 percent to 1.7 percent and increased the average gift from $25 to $30.

The society sent a 300,000-piece mailing last month and has been testing different angles since October.

For most of its 20-year history, the Hemlock Society had no organized acquisition program. Then, in August 1999, the organization hired Dona Dotson as director of development.

Dotson realized that the Hemlock Society's previous “when the spirit moved them” fundraising attempts were not working. The first thing she did was set up a schedule of two yearly mailings, in October and February.

For Dotson's first mailing, in October 1999, she reformatted the Hemlock Society's direct mail piece, a four-page letter on 8.5-inch-by-11-inch paper folded and stapled. She shortened the letter to one page and put it in an outer envelope with a compelling quote, along with a business reply envelope and a combination tear-off reply form and information sheet.

Dotson mailed the package to 10,000 names that had not been used in the previous mailing of March 1999, along with 25,000 additional names from small lists suggested by the Hemlock Society's new direct response company.

The package had a response rate of slightly less than 1 percent, but Dotson thought it would do better in the hands of a direct response company that knew more about finding lists of people concerned with social and political rights without duplicating names.

Dotson fired the old direct marketing company and hired Direct Marketing Designs. The February and October mailings last year of 100,000 each both had response rates of 1.7 percent. The February mailing brought in an average gift of $25, and the October mailing had an average gift of $30.

Results are not yet in for last month's mailing of 300,000 packages. Other than the greater number of recipients, the mailing did not change from the October version.

Even with a growing donor base, Dotson is constantly testing. Since October, she has tried different colors for the envelope and the letter, different quotes on the outer envelope, different fonts for the quote and a longer letter, because “some people believe long letters work better for acquisition,” Dotson said.

The results are not yet complete, but so far nothing has made the kind of difference effected by the original changes.

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