We’re about to launch another outreach experiment: mailing letters.
This giving season, we’re planning to send a subset of approximately 4,500 GiveWell donors a physical letter encouraging them to renew or increase their support of GiveWell’s top charities. We’ve never done broad outreach to encourage donations through physical mail before.
In the letter, we plan to share our list of top charities, our overall recommendation for donors, and remit materials for individuals who feel compelled to give. We hope the letter helps communicate our research to a group of individuals who have found our work useful in the past to guide their giving. We plan to assess the success of this experiment based on incremental donations that result from the letters.
Why we’re reaching out via mail
Increasing the amount of funding we direct to our recommended charities is an important goal for GiveWell. To help us achieve this, over the past two years, we’ve prioritized expanding our organizational capacity dedicated to communicating about our top charities to donors and potential donors.
However, our retention of donors isn’t as high as we want it to be; 43% of donors who gave in 2017 also gave in 2018. In addition, we plan to increase our focus next year on identifying new donors, and so it may be particularly important to make progress now on the best ways to build an ongoing relationship with donors.
We’re trying new modes of communication, including more traditional nonprofit outreach to donors, because we think they might help us increase our retention rate and the amount of funding our top charities receive. Reaching out to donors via mail is a common strategy nonprofits use to solicit donations.
We expect the donations we receive to exceed the amount we spend on this campaign. We plan to spend $15,000 (including a conservative estimate of staff time) on the letters and we model the potential return to be around $100,000 in new donations. Details are in our model here.
Some of our donors may prefer not to receive mail at all. To avoid reaching them, we won’t send physical letters to donors who have opted out of receiving solicitations from us in previous surveys. (If you’re reading this now and are unsure which preferences you’ve shared with us, we’re happy for you to update your preferences by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Plans for assessing success
We plan to assess success based on the incremental donations made due to the campaign. We’ll look at how much donors who received the letters gave relative to the previous year, compared to a smaller control group of donors who did not receive the letters. If the return on our spending on this campaign is near or better than our projection, we’d consider it a success and would want to weigh that against any serious negative feedback we might receive in a decision on whether or not to do this again in the future.
We would also be open to repeating the direct mail experiment if incremental donations made in 2019 that we attribute to the campaign roughly equal the amount we spent to conduct it. Many GiveWell donors support our top charities over multiple years and we expect some returns from the 2019 campaign in future years. In addition, we anticipate that the GiveWell staff time required to organize a campaign would be lower in subsequent years, as we could build off of the work we did this year to set it up.
Thanks for experimenting with us! We’re excited to try new ways to engage. Please let us know what you think in the comments.