The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) released findings from a new study today showing that direct mail (and phone outreach) still deliver significantly higher response rates than digital (specifically e-mail) campaigns.

Note: Importantly, this study and the findings highlighted here are not specific to nonprofit marketing/fundraising.  These are commercial marketing results (though there’s still value for nonprofits in the DMA’s study results).

The study found that traditional direct mail and phone campaigns produced response rates anywhere from 10 to 30 times that of e-mail campaigns.  BUT, e-mail campaigns tended to produce significantly higher ROI (at least for existing customer campaigns) than direct mail or telemarketing.

So given the mixed results, what can these findings really tell us?

It confirms what many of us in the sector have been saying all along.  As much as we all might want to scrap our costly direct mail programs or our “intrusive” telephone outreach efforts in favor of more widely accepted, cost-effective digital strategies, we cant (yet).

To be successful in the direct response arena, you’ve got to have an integrated strategy that harnesses the power of direct mail and phone outreach to deliver large quantities of new donors and high response rates from existing donors.  At the same time, you need to invest in building a best practice digital strategy that helps you reach younger, more diverse audiences and delivers strong ROI.

This is especially important given that the industry as a whole is starting to experience a shift in the way donors respond to solicitations.  Gone are the days of sending out mail and just getting checks via mail in return.  In fact, I’ve seen several recent attribution studies from different fundraising agencies indicating that anywhere from 10% – 30% of direct mail responses are now coming in online.  This blurring of solicitation method and response mechanism makes it even more critical that you have a fully integrated direct response fundraising program.

Leveraging multiple media channels increases your contact frequency, allows you to target a wide variety of audience segments, gives you the means to both plan strategically and respond quickly to changes in the market, and helps you more closely manage your Cost Per Donor (CPD) and maximize your Long Term Donor Value (LTDV) by optimizing each channel in coordination with the whole.