2014 Pinnacle Award for Direct Mail/Direct Response

Learn how the United Way increased donations by $1.34M. Enter your submission for the 2015 Pinnacle Awards by Feb. 27.

United Way of Greater Rochester won the 2014 Pinnacle Award for direct mail/direct response. We’re dedicated to making our community a better place to live for all. And we want our donors to know how their gift is making a real difference in other peoples’ lives. Our goal was to help our donors feel engaged with our work—work that they make possible through their support. Our theory was simple: when donors are connected to their own philanthropy, they will feel inspired to continue—and even increase—their donations.

To accomplish that, United Way developed a donor engagement direct mail and email strategy to communicate to donors at key points throughout the year about gift impact. We planned to share stories, photos, program updates and results statistics to appeal to donors on different levels.

One challenge was to continue to make the direct mail outreach fresh and current. Therefore, in 2013 United Way transitioned its newsletter format. We then selected a four-part series, each with a different focus, to highlight ways that Community Fund donations are being put to use to help people in need. The four-part series fits together as a whole, while each part can live independently as brochures or individual stories, as well.

Variable name data was used to personalize each piece with the donor’s first name and giving history. If a recent gift was given, messaging included a “thank you”; if no annual gift had been made yet, a request for a donation was included. Each direct mail piece was followed one week later with a similar electronic communication to provide another opportunity to engage and learn more about gift impact.

The donor engagement program at United Way is tracked and analyzed per communication and as a whole program. “Test” and “control” groups are measured to ensure accuracy. In 2013, results of the four-part series of communications included (comparison of test v. control):

  • Increased donations by $1.34M
  • Increased renewals by 706 individual donors
  • Increased average donation size by 7-9%
  • Increased $ per targeted donor by $27
  • High ROI: $2.28 boost in donations for every $1 spent

With positive results and thousands of people helped, United Way is continuing the donor engagement outreach into 2015.

Dawn Borgeest, United Way RochesterDawn Borgeest is Sr. Vice President and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer of United Way of Greater Rochester.