Dunham+Company study: Direct mail growing as source for online donations

This study mentioned in this post has been updated. View the most recent findings.

In contrast, online efforts fail to increase financial engagement, making multichannel donor communications more important than ever

Donors are more than three times likelier to give online in response to a direct mail appeal than an e-appeal, according to a new national Dunham+Company study.Direct mail appeals drive online giving

The study, conducted on behalf of Dunham+Company by research firm Campbell Rinker, found that 17 percent of donors who gave on a charity website in 2011 said that a direct mail letter prompted their online gift versus only 5 percent who said they gave online because of an email. The ratio was slightly more than 2-to-1 in a study conducted for Dunham+Company in October 2010.Infographic: Half of donors surveyed prefer to give online when they receive a direct mail appeal

In addition, 50 percent of donors surveyed in 2012 said they prefer to give online when they receive a letter in the mail from a charity. In 2010, just more than one-third of donors (38 percent) said they preferred to give online after getting a letter in the mail.

Key donor age groups giving more online

The proportion of donors ages 40-59 who reported giving a gift online in response to a direct mail appeal rose 38 percent (from 34 percent in 2010 to 47 percent in 2012). Key age demographics giving more onlineAmong donors age 60 or older, online giving prompted by a direct mail appeal rose 30 percent (from 18 percent in 2010 to 24 percent in 2012).

Women, wealthier donors respond to direct mail via online gifts

Fifty-three percent of donors in households earning $75,000 or more preferred to respond with an online gift when they receive a direct-mail appeal. This is up from 42 percent in 2010, a 26 percent increase. Women, wealthier donors respond to direct mail via online giftsThe same is true for 52 percent of women, up from 39 percent in 2010, a 33 percent increase.

Online gifts driven by website

Interestingly, websites lost ground in driving online giving: Only 11 percent of donors said what they saw on a charity’s website motivated a gift, which is down from 15 percent in 2010. In addition, e-mail may be driving fewer donors to give online: Only 5 percent of respondents now say they gave an online gift as the result of an e-mail, compared to 6 percent in 2010.

Social media motivating more donors under age 40

Social media shows no real improvement in motivating an online gift among donors 40 years old or older (10 percent in this survey versus 8 percent in 2010). However, social media giving continues to grow among donors under age 40, as a full 30 percent now say they have given online because of social media compared to 24 percent in 2010.

What the findings mean for nonprofits

“We conducted this survey because we wanted to see if direct mail was diminishing as a source for online donations, and if so, what was driving the increase in online giving that we were seeing,” said Rick Dunham, President+CEO of Dunham+Company. “Finding that direct mail has actually grown as a driver to online donations and that online efforts were not really moving the needle was a bit of a shock.”

“Charities need to be very circumspect about where they put their fundraising dollars,” Dunham continued. “It’s clear that it’s a mistake to reduce offline communications thinking the online activity is what is driving online giving. This is especially important considering the way the core donor demographic of 40 and older donors is responding online when receiving offline communications.”

The increased online giving among older donors is consistent with the findings of a Dunham+Company study in 2011 that showed half of donors 60 years old and older had given an online gift.

Gaining insight into multichannel donor communications

Dunham+Company’s findings further emphasize the importance of a well-developed multichannel donor communication strategy.

These findings, which show dramatic increases in donors who receive a direct mail letter responding “online” should not be viewed as counter to Blackbaud’s 2011 donorCentrics Internet and Multichannel Giving Benchmarking Report, which found:

While multichannel giving has become a popular objective of nonprofits as a way to build constituent support, the large majority of donors on file give through only one channel and use only direct mail as their vehicle for donations. The only donors who do significant multichannel giving are new donors acquired online, who switch in large numbers to direct mail giving in subsequent years.

Donors are shifting behavior. Up to this point, the overwhelming majority of direct mail donors were giving through the mail. It is now an even split.

With more donors in virtually all demographic groups and tracking categories responding to direct mail appeals by donating online, nonprofits must ensure their websites are designed not simply to drive an online donation by a website visitor, but rather, they must design the online experience so that the website is “ready to receive” these “offline” donors who come to the site ready to donate.

A maturing multichannel strategy means that all aspects of donor communications and donor experience must be coordinated. The resources responsible for creating direct mail communications must be in constant communication with the team responsible for the online experience. It is not enough to design a landing page for each offline appeal. If a donor goes to your home page as a result of a direct mail letter, they need to feel welcome there, quickly find the button that is related to the appeal and then be ushered directly into the donation experience with minimal friction.

The most recent study was part of a Campbell Rinker Donor Confidence Survey conducted April 22-28, 2012 online among 494 adult donors who gave at least $20 in 2011. The 2010 and 2012 results were weighted by age to reflect the general U.S. population. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.


  1. says

    We are doing mailings to possible donors for a very small non-profit organization. Before sending, I am calling before I send a one-page letter. I am requesting 25- $250. If I send out 100 letters to possible donors, what percentage of possible reply with a donation?


  1. […] Fast forward nearly 15 years later, and how has that prediction panned out? Well, based on our latest research, direct mail plays a much more vital role in driving online giving than does online communication. In fact, more than three times as many donors say they were prompted to give an online gift in response to a direct mail letter compared to when they received an email. In 2010, the ratio was two times as many donors. So it’s fair to say that direct mail is playing an increasing role in generating online revenue. You read that right. Increasing. (Here’s a link to the entire study: Direct mail growing as source for online donations). […]

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