Big and Small
Acquisition Tests that Matter
B R I D G E C O N F E R E N C E J U L Y 2 0 2 2
Big and Small
Acquisition Tests that Matter
Michelle Le Margaret Espineli
Interim Senior Marketing Manager, Direct Mail
Doctors Without Borders
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
Lautman Maska Neill & Company
Development Services Manager
Marine Corps Heritage Foundation
Today’s Conversation | Take-aways
(In Both Big And
Small Ways)To Help
Lower Costs And
Loads of acquisition tests that you
can take back to your organizations
Test learnings that will help you build
on wins and pivot away from losses
Ways to maximize response from
long-standing control packages
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF-USA), commonly referred to as
Doctors Without Borders, works over 70 countries providing
lifesaving medical care to victims of conflict, natural disasters,
epidemics and healthcare exclusion.
With a donor file size of 800,000+, massive Acquisition efforts to
recruit donors are necessary to stem attrition and raise critical
funds to help save lives around the world.
About the Mail Program
• Over the past three yearsVolume has ranged from 23-36 million
• In 2021, MSF acquired 193k new donors to support its lifesaving work
• Acquisitions mail monthly
• In 2019 MSF had 3 controls (one overseas and two domestically
• Today, there are 6 co-controls – combination of packages produced
overseas and domestically, mailed in alternating months.
• High volume
• Strong Average gift
• Multiple controls
• MSF’s willingness to invest,
test, and learn
• Declining response of
• Dependent on long
• Hard to be nimble in mail
• Seasonal controls
• Room to grow
• List expansion based on new topics
• Supply chain issues
• Increased costs
• Winning controls dropping in
Tote Control rolled out
1% response rate
Average gift ranging
What does this control
package look like today?
You tell us.
• Save on costs
• Produce a more
• No impact can still be a big
• Improve average gift
without hurting response
• Tested twice
• Sometimes you have
to accept defeat
• Find a new premium to
mitigate risk of tote fatigue
• Tested three times!
• Sometimes you need to accept success!
• Understand if tote
design makes a difference
• You can have more than one winner
• Leverage learnings for other
• Map and Slogan image are being
used in other creative: stickers,
bookmarks, coasters, etc.
• Increase response
• With a 2.4% response rate -
some tests are worth
• Strike while the iron is hot!
• Some premiums only work
for a moment in time.
Win big, fail fast
Requires minimal resources
You might love something, but that doesn’t mean your
Just because a premium works with another
organization, doesn’t mean it will work for yours
Keep on thinking of new ideas - while it’s hard to beat a
long-standing control, there is always that one unicorn
Are The Ones
Who Feel The
Need To “Shake
• Only a small percentage of donors are
opening acquisition mailings
• And if they are…they aren’t comparing
to every package you send them
• Donors are responding to two simple
• Is there a strong and heartfelt case for
• Do they feel their gift is making an
None of them beat the control they were up
All of them took a tremendous amount of
time and resources.
We all really really loved every single one of
A Winning Appeal
Took What Was Working
• No new copy required
• Leveraged working components to
create a new package
• Minimal time and resources
Changed What We Needed To:
• 5 reasons vs. 10
• Converted winning acquisition letter
• Added winning label notepad, with
Can Keep on
Take a look at what
you’ve done in the past.
What have you tested?
Is there something there
that you can build on?
How long ago did you
conduct a test?Times
have changed, consider
Can a campaign from
the past can be reused
— with a few fresh
Take the time to
brainstorm and you’ll
uncover new “old” ways
to engage your donors
and increase revenue.
To preserve and share the history and traditions of the United
States Marine Corps, namely through the National Museum
of the Marine Corps in Quantico,VA as well as outreach to the
About the Program
• Acquisition volume has hovered around 1.5 million pieces split over
four acquisitions for the past several years.
• MCHF has historically enjoyed a strong response rate and healthy
cost to acquire throughout the years
• MCHF has one long-standing control package for outside lists with
variations for lapsed reactivation.
Keep Prospects Interested:
How to motivate prospects
to join despite construction
of Museum being complete
and having FREE admission
Contraction of Marine Corps
size after Vietnam means
only so many Marines to
target, and no lists of
The Solution: Slow & steady acquisition
testing to improve a successful control.
We are constantly adapting.
TEST: Note from
• Adding a handwritten note to the
letter will make the
seem more personal and cause
prospects to sign up.
• Yes! The simple addition of a note
the top of the letter improved
response by 15%!
TEST: Sneak in a
• Adding a bumper sticker to the
address label sheet will increase
the perceived value and
response – all without having to
pay for an extra premium.
• Yup! Simply adding a bumper
sticker (in place of some labels)
generated nearly 20% more
donors without any added
TEST: Look at What
• By taking inspiration
USMC merch that uses
bright colors and busier
designs, new address
labels will improve
• Yes! 11% more new
TEST: Add Photo Cards
• Adding photo cards from
“the archives” to show
past and present of the
Marine Corps, and the
need to preserve all of it
will help boost response.
• Yup! Response increased
by nearly 20% and CTA
Test: Give More
• Fill up the back of
labels with quotes and
images to encourage
prospects to join.
• Nope. More is not
Give to People
• Tell stories of Marines and
more donors will give!
• Nope. Sometimes, vaguer
better. Know your
TEST: Bold Their
Name on Labels
• People like to see
• 9% more new
donors at less of an
TEST: Give Them
What They Want!
• Marines love stickers. Give them an
Eagle, Globe and Anchor one, too!
• More new donors signed up and CTA
decreased by 25%! More than paid
MCHF 08_13 Acq EGA Decal.indd 1
5/22/13 2:43 PM
TEST: Show MORE Labels
• Having two address labels
show through the window
will entice more folks to join.
• Yes! This simple change
improved response without
any added expense!
M C H F
3 8 0 0 F E T T L E R P A R K D R I V E , S U I T E 1 0 4
D U M F R I E S , V A 2 2 0 2 5
Your Free“Semper Fi”
Bumper Sticker Enclosed!
1730RhodeIsland Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
MCHF 08_13 Acq EGA Decal.indd 1
5/22/13 2:43 PM
• Use strong renewal language
and techniques with lapsed
donors will improve
without adding any extra
• Whoa! 25% more donors
signed up, generating NET
TEST: Other Renewal
• Mixing up the
sent to lapsed donors
renewal packages sent
to active donors will
• 20% more donors
signed up, generating
As Long As You
Labels… Use Them
to List Build!
Michelle Le Margaret Espineli
Eye-catching envelope – mailing in a box with Styrofoam to secure the tote Compelling letter from an MSF doctor Reply form with symbolic asks Informational brochure Upfront tote premium
While the longstanding tote bag control package was still garnering an impressive response rate, it has seen a significant decline in recent years from its heyday response rate of over 1% – and expenses have continued to go up impacting the net/donor and overall investment.
2019 test No impact on response or gift. Even though this test was not a winner, it didn’t lose. That was enough for us – we knew that costs were rising and the box OE wasn’t sustainable in terms of cost. Rolled out as a new envelope.
2019 test Lowered response significantly both times
2020 test Results seemed too good to be true (1.20% response rate) , so we kept on testing – at larger quantities. Find a mission based premium Became the new control in 2021
2020 test Tests provide a lot of learnings that can be applied across your program, it doesn’t have to be isolated to the specific campaign you are testing. You will save on time and resources – instead of continuously redesigning new components, we’re leveraging these designs in new creative. Both designs increased response rate
2019 test 2020 Tested in the height of COVID Incredible 2.4% response rate Started to see fall off based on the environment When there was another surge in Fall/Winter of 2021, we saw response increase again
2020 Hurt response and average gift
2020 Increased response to 1.10%, average gift remained the same
2021 Tested prior to “Label gate” 2022 Suppressed response significantly by half!
2020 test 1.42% response rate, lowered average gift slightly
Currently averaging over a 1% response rate and $50 average gift
If something works, use it again - but with a new twist We (fundraisers) are the ones who feel the need to “shake things up” Remember- a small percentage of donors are opening acquisition mailings And if they are…they aren’t comparing to every package you send them Donors are responding to two simple criteria: Is there a strong and heartfelt case for support? Do they feel their gift is making an impact?
2020 test 5 reasons beat the Nutrition control, increasing response by 12%, reducing the CTA by 14%
Longstanding control – 0.30% response rate and high average gift Lots of STUFF How could we move the needle with this control
Increased response, increased average gift by $6, and was cheaper to produce
Increased average gift when we sent to the coupon Second step was to increase response with the sticker blow on – currently in market
Annual Planner: Increased response, lowered average gift, but response was high enough to offset lower gift and overall CTA was lower with the planner Coasters – not a winner
MCHF’s work is ongoing. Year-in, year-out, the mission is the same – to preserve and honor USMC history. Timeless. But also the challenge is to keep that message compelling since there is not the lure of building construction or expansion. And in terms of audience, while we of course have many donors that are not directly affiliated with the Marine Corps and just believe in supporting the Armed Forces and preserving their history, the fact is, our bread and butter are Marines and their families. There is a finite group of them. In fact, like all branches of the Armed Forces, the USMC contracted in size after Vietnam so there are even fewer Marines who fall into the traditional direct mail age group than in the past – and they are being targeted by other non profits too. So we need to be able to a) target them and b) standout.
The solution: find something that works, and build off of it. Big believers in “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” And you often hear folks talk about “What’s not working and what we need to fix.” But just as important as finding the problems are also finding “what’s working. Build on that. And constantly stay at it.” So we’ll be showing you lots of examples of tweak tests.
This is the control package around 2009. A teaser on the OE promoting free address labels. A traditional four-page letter. A Semper Fidelis decal. A double sheet of address labels with patriotic images (eagle, flag, etc.). Over the next few slides, we’ll show how this package has evolved and remains essentially the same … but better.
Hearing from “the General” is really motivating to prospects. Nice personal touch.
The original labels were very “classic” – more high-brow Museum for lack of a better phrase. These labels were based off of what Marines buy to show their affiliation. We went on different websites/catalogs and looked at “Best Sellers” to see what folks were buying – and then gave them more of that.
Added two cards – one from Iwo Jima in 1945 with a faux “archive” note describing the scene. The second card from present day in Afghanistan with a note asking for help to tell their story.
Social proof is the idea that folks will join if they see others are joining. We thought that by filling up the back of labels with motivating quotes from other donors/visitors, it would spur increased giving. Nope. All because you have space doesn’t mean it needs to be filled.
This is really two tests. We’ve all heard how People give to people. We wanted to bring USMC history to life by highlighting specific events and/or people. In one case, we focused on the Battle of Marjah in Afghanistan. The package talked about the heroism of the Marines who served and included a sign and return card. In another case, we included a lift note from a Gold Star mother who had lost her son in Afghanistan. In addition to talking about her son, the letter mentioned how the Museum had been the backdrop for his last promotion and how the legacy of her son and his fellow Marines would be honored forever at the Museum.
In both cases – response was lower. Fewer new donors. Our conclusion? For a cause like this where many of the people we are targeting are essentially the users (Marines at the National Museum of the Marine Corps) vaguer is better because it allows them to fill in the blanks with their own stories … their own legacy. Since then, we try and keep messaging broad.
If donors need to read stories to be motivated to join … maybe we can save money and write a shorter letter!
From previous testing, we knew having one address label show through the window improved response. So, why not give them more of what they like and show them TWO label designs? And sure enough – it worked!
One thing to call attention to – we eventually changed the teaser on the OE to tout the bumper sticker and not the address labels. Why? Because you couldn’t see the bumper sticker inside – but you could see the address labels showing through the window.
For MCHF, we can effectively mail lapsed donors back 10 years, sometimes more. We also knew that we had seen big improvements in retention with ACTIVE donors by using renewal language and techniques. The idea – test using those same renewal techniques with lapsed donors in acquisition to reactivate. Donors still got address labels, decals, etc. We just adjusted envelope teasers, letters, format, etc.
Results were VERY clear. Slightly varying package and adding renewal techniques – in this case a renewal teaser and a short letter emphasizing the fact that they’re lapsed (highlighting last gift, etc.) paid off with 25% more new donors!!!
Buiilding off of the renewal techniques – we adapted the most successful appeal, a Supporter Card package – for lapsed acquisition. It’s a typical two page supporter card renewal letter with a supporter card on the reply form. We did include labels, decals, etc. 20% more lapsed donors reactivated – resulting in NET revenue! This test was done in February, asking folks to renew for the year ahead. We have since also tested into sending this package to lapsed at the end of October as an “early” renewal. There, it created a 50% increase in response!!!
Email sent to prospects on email file asking them if they’d like to get free, personalized Marine Corps address labels. All they have to do is give their address! Then, they get thrown into the next acquisition. While not a huge quantity – it’s a great way to convert warm prospects to donors by leveraging what you already have! You can also do this with Facebook ads, etc.