How multichannel cultivation impacts year end giving Experiment ID: #6404

Hillsdale College

Founded in 1844, Hillsdale College is an independent liberal arts college with a student body of about 1,400. Hillsdale’s educational mission rests upon two principles: academic excellence and institutional independence. The College does not accept federal or state taxpayer subsidies for any of its operations.

Experiment Summary

Timeframe: 11/19/2016 - 12/31/2016

Multichannel communication is a known “best practice”, but traditionally refers to the tactic of trying to develop online cultivation with offline donors to increase offline giving. Hillsdale College wondered if the strategy could be reversed—using direct mail to develop offline cultivation with online donors to increase online giving. There were some obvious risks to such a test—particularly the upfront cost of direct mail cultivation.

Leading into the calendar year end campaign, Hillsdale had discovered a technology that would allow them to send personalized post cards to their donors at a reasonably efficient price point. The cards included the donor’s name on the front and a link to a custom video; all of which would be trackable back to the individual donor. The landing page for the video had a donation form with a “soft ask”, but the true test was to see whether direct mail cultivation would increase giving for a digital campaign.

We decided to test out the impact of this kind of technology by sending a postcard to a random segment of active donors for the sole purpose of cultivation and stewardship. We sent this just before Thanksgiving and then monitored their giving throughout the calendar year-end campaign. We would then compare their giving to a similar group of donors to get an understanding of the impact.

Research Question

Will sending a personalized cultivation postcard via direct mail have an impact on the donors’ likelihood to give and amount given at calendar year end?


C: No Post Card
T1: Post Card


Treatment Name Conv. Rate Relative Difference Confidence
C: No Post Card 8.8%
T1: Post Card 26.9% 204.1% 100.0%

This experiment has a required sample size of 20 in order to be valid. Since the experiment had a total sample size of 293,796, and the level of confidence is above 95% the experiment results are valid.

Flux Metrics Affected

The Flux Metrics analyze the three primary metrics that affect revenue (traffic, conversion rate, and average gift). This experiment produced the following results:

    0% increase in traffic
× 204.1% increase in conversion rate
× 0% increase in average gift

Key Learnings

The results from this test were very encouraging. The donors that received the postcard cultivation saw a statistically significant 204% increase in their year end giving. Additionally, Hillsdale saw a directional 105% increase in their average gift when compared to the control group (although this average gift increase did not reach statistical significance.)

This cultivation strategy resulted in a significant increase in the amount of revenue received from this test group. As organizations become more intentional about growing online donor files, direct mail has the possibility to become a great cultivation channel—with the caveat that online donors might not become offline donors. But if the direct mail pieces can be cost effective, it can help bolster online fundraising results. This is the first of many tests in this area, but one with promising results.


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Experiment Documented by...

Kevin Peters

Kevin is the Chief Technology Officer at NextAfter. If you have any questions about this experiment or would like additional details not discussed above, please feel free to contact them directly.