The KMA Whitemail Experiment tally

An instructive project but thin data to talk about multi-channel integration

The KMA whitemail experiment began on November 18, 2013 when I mailed cheques for $100 to eight charities, and made $100 online donations to four more – all to charities to which I’d ​never before given, and which have never been clients. I wanted to see what would happen next.

You can read the early posts starting here:

By the end of December 2015 I had received 110 mailed solicitations from those charities, in a variety of forms.

That does not seem excessive overall. although as you can see from this table, one charity accounted for 25 per cent of those mailings (a rate of more than once a month), and the most prolific four charities sent 71 per cent of the total. The pattern I reported in June 2015 in this post held for the balance of the year.


Given the attention now paid to multi-channel fundraising -  integrating email, paper mail, mobile, web sites etc. - four of my initial $100 gifts were made online, each to large national charities with major fundraising programs. The table below shows the response.


Two organizations did not approach me by email at all. “Social service-broad mandate- national” did almost nothing at all in two years to entice me to make another gift. After the instant electronic receipt for the initial gift, I heard nothing else for 17 months. Then I received a second printed appeal during the 2015 Christmas season. Just two contacts.

The other – Social service-broad mandate-national-faith based – mailed to me with the second-highest frequency among those in our experiment, but made no effort to solicit me by email.

The behavior of both is inexplicable. Direct mail is still powerful, and many people receive direct mail and then make a gift online: the mailed appeal simply drives them to their preferred response channel.  But when a person makes a first gift and volunteers his email address, ignoring that is bizarre.

So I’m left with very thin data to make experiential observations about what strategies are actually being used to integrate direct mail and email. But from two organizations, this is what I observed.

Environmental organization

The environmental charity sent 17 pieces of mail but 70 emails (after the instant receipt). From the outset it was clear they want more than my money.

  • They want my brain: almost every contact includes a call to action to engage their educational resources and learn about specific environmental issues.   
  • They want my name: they promote becoming a “member,” in part so they can report the size of their membership to various authorities, businesses and other agencies.
  • They want my voice: many of the calls-to-action are ways to advocate for them and the environment.
  • They want my time: volunteers play a big role in the cause.
  • They want my money: about this they are repeatedly clear, although restrained in tone and intensity.

I’ve come to respect this organization. But they face a communication challenge: issuing five kinds of calls-to-action, makes communications more like a buffet than an entree. And although they manage it fairly well, some of the power of multi-channel is muted. In their mix I observed:

Loss of momentum in donor engagement:  The on-line newsletter includes great original and engaging articles. So does the print material. But go online and click “donate,” and you land in a totally generic donation form. There is a drop-down menu for designations, but the only designation options are to each province.  That’s very demotivating to the donor.

Failure to deliver on an offer: If I click the “Volunteer” link in my email it takes me to a web page, which speaks of a certain kind of volunteer and offers a second link to see opportunities sorted by province. I click that link and only one province has any listing. All others are blank. Will I go back and find the other links to other kinds of volunteering? Or am I done with this now?

Lack of clear tie-in between online and print. The branding is consistent, and so is the style and positive tone. But apart from a couple of intersections per year (usually when they are selling a cause-related product), one doesn’t get a unified impression of their biggest priorities. They trade some sense of urgency around giving to instead promote their educational agenda, which, in turn makes their mailings more interesting than most.


International aid organization

Getting a financial response is what all communications from the aid organization is all about and they know how to knit the channels together. They don’t really invest a lot in educating me. They want me to know what they do, and support them financially. Their appeals are sharply focused.

Donor engagement: Each printed mailing had a very strong all to action that featured either an ongoing program (such as fresh water), or a crisis (Nepal) or some social aspect currently in the news. Formats are consistent throughout the year – even when they deviate from their “standard” format, they vary in the same way at the same time of the year. Email appeals are brief with a call to action in the subject line or header or both.

Tie-in between print and email: I’d describe it as sophisticated, avoiding simple cloning of an appeal in one channel for use another channel. Specific case-related messages are repeated, but the graphics can vary. Specific donor engagement tools are used in both channels, with additional understated connections on the level of themes, and those few key graphics.

Where they shine most is when you want to donate: every appeal is directly linked to its own subpage, with photos, graphics and proposed gift levels that replicate the mailing.   

All in all, they do impressive work, although it does have an underlying feel of being part of a solicitation system.

That's the tally, and the thin-data report.

- Larry Matthews

Next: the whitemail experiment epilogue



Lots of advice is available on how to boost response rates to email fundraising appeals. One succinct example can be found here.

If you like what you read, you can ask for their white paper on the topic.

Meanwhile, a helpful primer on multi-channel fundraising can be found here.

It’s the first chapter of a book. If you like what you read, you can always buy the book. (KMA has no financial stake in it.)