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The Multichannel Marketing Guide for Fundraisers

Published by Brady Josephson

The oldest experiment in our library, from 2006, showed that sending emails to direct mail recipients — instead of only direct mail or only email — led to 60.5% more donations than direct mail alone (and 1607% more than email alone). Nat Ward wrote about this strategy, multichannel marketing, in Is Your Email Fundraising Cannibalizing Your Direct Mail Fundraising? Probably Not.

And while multichannel marketing — using one or more of your fundraising channels with the same focus or campaign — has become a generally held ‘best practice’, many organizations are just now starting to think about it. This post will give some reasons why you need to be doing multichannel marketing, what it is today, what are some new, proven, and tested ideas, and some key concepts behind them.

Why Multichannel Marketing

We’re kind of obsessed with email acquisition because email is top dog when it comes to raising money online. Generally speaking, the more (quality) emails you have and the more (quality) emails you send, the more online revenue you will generate.

Frequent, and great, communication also helps drive donor retention rates and therefore Lifetime Value, the main metric that matters when it comes to long-term fundraising.

But email fundraising isn’t just about online revenue.

Here’s a look at our benchmark clients and a full fiscal year of giving and retention (removed major donors and corporate contributions):

total revenue across channels

People who received some email communication throughout the year — but still only sent in checks when it was time to give — gave 90% more than those who didn’t get email communication.

using multichannel fundraising increased value 90%

And it’s not even just about more money today.

Offline donors who receive email were more likely to give again the following year. 29% more often in fact:

multichannel marketing increased donor retention 29%

Stop reading this post and go get you some emails! Okay, don’t literally stop reading but this is key point #1:

Just having and sending emails to offline donors means more revenue in the short and the long term.

And if some of those offline donors start giving online too, well, look out:

totally multichannel fundraising lead to 212% more revenue

Donors who give offline and online are over 3x more valuable to your organization than those who only give offline. 3x!

And multichannel donors are 56% more likely to stick around compared to offline only:

totally multichannel donors have a 56% higher retention rate

So just to recap:

  • More emails mean more online revenue
  • More emails mean more offline revenue
  • More emails mean greater donor retention (and therefore lifetime value)

And if those offline donors give online:

  • Multichannel donors mean more total revenue
  • Multichannel donors mean greater donor retention (and therefore lifetime value)

These crazy (good) numbers reinforce what Nat found in our oldest experiment: multichannel marketing boosts revenue.

So, if you weren’t onboard with multichannel marketing, I hope you are now.

Multichannel Fundraising and Horizontal vs. Vertical Integration

Fundraising with different channels started out looking something like this, with resources required plotted on one axis and response rate on the other:

graph of response rate vs. required resources

The more personal approaches like offline and face-to-face, lead to a greater response rate. But these high response channels also required a greater amount of time and resources. And as you ‘slide down’ from there, the strategies take less time but they are also less effective.

This is why younger and smaller organizations often focus on social media early because it’s free and cheap. But they should, in my opinion, focus more on face to face and ‘offline hustling’ because they’ll generally get a better response and more money. That’s why traditional startup businesses look for seed capital so they can build out their business and user base. The same is true for nonprofits and their donor base.

But as these organizations grow and fundraisers can’t meet every donor for coffee, tea, or beer (not all at once, that’s gross), they need to rely more on different strategies, and channels, that can ‘scale’ or reach more people in cost-effective ways.

That’s where the horizontal integration kicks in.

horizontal integration of multichannel marketing

This is when we start saying the same things, but across all channels to improve overall effectiveness. This is where those crazy good online vs. offline vs. offline with email vs. multichannel charts and stats from above come in and show the immense value of multichannel marketing.

This type of approach — multichannelshould be common, much more common than it is, and is what is going on today.

But what’s next? Or what’s now?

Enter vertical integration.vertical integration of multichannel marketing

Instead of just saying the same things across all the channels, which, again, is a very good thing and you should be doing it, we can start to leverage the benefits of each channel to provide more value to other channels and increase downstream revenue — the amount we can raise from donors later on.

So instead of copying your direct mail letter into an email that points to a similarly branded and connected donation landing page, vertical multichannel marketing looks at things like:

  • What type of blog content can you produce leading up to your campaign or appeal?
  • What ads can you show on social media to boost direct mail revenue?
  • What mail piece can you send that can help your email and online campaign?

With vertical multichannel marketing in mind, here are…

3 Proven, New, And Tested Ideas for Multichannel Marketing

1. Show Facebook ads to your direct mail recipients

In this first experiment, the organization was wondering what they could do to boost direct mail revenue without simply sending more mail or use a labor-intensive strategy like calling every potential donor. In this experiment, they created a test audience that saw Facebook ads two weeks before and two weeks after the mail piece hit mailboxes – the prime time for a donor to respond, compared to an audience that didn’t see the ads.

A key point on the ads here, they were aiming for reach as the goal was to test direct mail revenue, not online revenue, so getting impressions, in this case, they theorized, could be beneficial even without a click.

In addition to the 154% increase in revenue (!!!), there was a 239.4% increase in conversion rate. Pretty, pretty, pretty… good.

A Nonprofit Innovation and Optimization Summit event attendee saw that wildly successful experiment and thought, “you know what, I think we could do that”. And so they did.

They showed some video ads 1 week before the drop date and 3 weeks after but pretty much the same strategy (why reinvent the wheel) and here’s what they saw:experiment of direct mail only vs. direct mail and ads

Spending just under $700, Canadian… that’s like $20 US nowadays, they were able to increase overall revenue from the test group by nearly $10,000!

2. Send donors a ‘thank you’ postcard before year-end campaign

This is one of my favorite experiments and is the reverse of the previous strategy — using online to help offline — where this organization wondered if they could use offline to help boost online.

In this experiment, they sent a personalized postcard with the donor’s name on the front and a link to a custom video online, which was all trackable to the individual donor, to half of their audience. It was sent just before American Thanksgiving because, well, they are American, and Canadian Thanksgiving is simply way too early in the year to send it.

Anyways, here’s our founder, Tim Kachuriak, explaining this experiment:

And here were the results:

experiment of not sending a postcard vs. sending a postcard

The people who received the postcard increased their giving 204% compared to the folks who didn’t get it. There was also a 105% increase in their average gift (although this did not reach statistical significance).

3. Create content focused on giving and generosity leading up to your campaign

In this experiment, the organization wondered if they could influence downstream generosity by creating and showing content that focused on the impact donors have on the organization and the need for additional contributions.

email series example

The visitors were isolated into groups that saw these articles and those who did not. And it’s important to note, these pieces did not ask for donations or a link to the donation page.

The end result? Those that saw the articles were nearly 3x more likely to give at year end. 3x!

The Common Thread: Priming

Each of these tests took advantage of a technique used to train a person’s memory called priming.

A memory effect in which exposure to a stimulus influences response to a later stimulus

The main point here is to get a person to recognize something, or some aspect, and pair it with a feeling to aid them in the making of a future decision. And with that, here are…

3 Keys to Priming

1. Timing

You may have noticed that each of those experiments didn’t start priming their audience until about 2 weeks before the main campaign ask via email or direct mail. They also continued for a few weeks after that key date.

Key point: Cultivate within 2 weeks prior to the desired donation ask and continue cultivation through to the end of the appeal.

2. Feeling

You may have also noticed that all the ‘priming’ content wasn’t just stats, numbers, or the usual fundraising stuff. The priming content was focused on evoking an emotion (emotion, in fundraising, crazy, I know…). In particular, good priming content, as shown in these experiments:

  • Makes people feel important
  • Makes people feel appreciated
  • Makes people feel selfishly fulfilled

Who doesn’t want to feel important, appreciated, and fulfilled? And wouldn’t you be more generous if you did? And this doesn’t need to cost you an arm or a leg to do or create. It can be just good copy telling a story and expressing the need.

Key point: Use only content that creates a feeling of importance, appreciation and/or personal fulfillment.

3. Focus

The last key is perhaps the hardest for nonprofits but in each example, the priming content wasn’t trying to get a donation. The goal, or focus, was on cultivating the donor along.

This is key because people, generally, go online to get. Not give. So if you are able to give them something they are interested in — and that makes them feel important, appreciated, and fulfilled — they trust you more and, as proven here, are more likely to respond. This operates on the reciprocity effect where people are more likely to give after they have received something of value.

Key point: Do not initially try to squeeze in a donation ask. Focus your content completely on serving the donor (using above approach)


Multichannel marketing has immense benefits for you and your fundraising. Just using email can help boost offline revenue and multichannel donors are more valuable — both today and tomorrow — so integrating your fundraising horizontally is a must. Adding in some vertical integration by using online ads, offline postcards, or specific content that ‘primes’ your donors can significantly boost total revenue and conversion rates without breaking the bank account, hiring more staff, or sending more mail and email.

Want More?

More on Multichannel and Integrated Fundraising

More on Email Fundraising

Published by Brady Josephson

Brady Josephson is Managing Director of the NextAfter Institute.