Back to Basics: Membership Direct Mail Acquisition

Using direct mail for acquisition is a very viable channel for attracting new members. In this post, we’re going back to basics on direct mail acquisition. Whether you are new to using direct mail or are a seasoned veteran, following are the five key things to keep in mind when executing a direct mail acquisition campaign.


The purpose of direct mail acquisition is to reach a new audience and ask them to join your organization. You should utilize a mix of three types of lists:

  • In-house non-member prospects, such as camp registrants, event ticket purchasers and special exhibition ticket buyers, as well as lapsed members
  • Traded lists from other like-minded, local cultural organizations
  • Rental lists, often subscribers or buyers of magazines or catalog items


Successful direct mail acquisition mailings should include an attractive offer. A 10% off discount on the new memberships, premium item offered as part of the membership purchase, additional free months applied to the membership or another exclusive offer are proven options to entice recipients to join.


Many membership direct mail campaigns are full-color packages and contain a full-color outer envelope, letter, brochure, reply device (often attached to the letter) and return envelope. The envelopes and letter should include attractive images of the organization’s offerings, such as animals or artifacts, as well as images of benefits offered to the prospective member, such as event photos or special access tours.


Performing matchback analysis on direct mail campaigns is a great way to show the success of a campaign. A matchback analysis compares the entire mail file to all membership transactions that occurred since the mailing (or since the first mailing when there were multiple mailings in one campaign). Any member that joined or rejoined and received the mailing should be attributed to the success of the campaign—even if they did not reply directly to the mailing or use the provided promo code when purchasing their membership. Since many people that receive a direct mail piece will purchase online or wait until their next visit to your organization to join, you cannot rely on mailed responses and promo codes alone. A successful direct mail acquisition campaign generally has a response rate between 0.5% and 1.5%.


Finally, continuous testing is crucial to successful direct mail campaigns. Through testing, you can identify what works best for attracting new members to your organization. A/B testing is one of the least complicated ways to test—requiring only a control package and the test package to be mailed, each to a segment of the mail file. Some various testing options include:

  • Full-color (referred to as four-color) versus two-color outer envelopes
  • Package sizes (e.g., a #10 envelope versus a 6×9 envelope)
  • Offer testing (e.g., 10% discount versus $10 off discount or guest passes versus event passes)
  • Imagery on the envelopes and letter (e.g., family images versus artifacts images)
  • Messaging (e.g., value versus experience messaging in the letter)

Testing works best when only one element is being tested so that results are clear. Additional testing can be completed in subsequent mailings. For example, let’s assume that artifact imagery was the “winning package” after testing imagery of families versus imagery of artifacts. The winning artifact package could then be tested against another image or you could choose a different element such as package size to test. Direct mail testing helps you learn about your marketing and helps your team better target your audience.

Direct mail may seem “old school” to some, but it is still the backbone of acquisition programs and is even more powerful when paired with email and digital campaigns with the same messaging and creative as the direct mail campaign.

Make this powerful medium work for your program!

Need help on your next direct mail acquisition campaign? Just fill out the form below to find out how we can assist you in developing your most successful direct mail campaign yet!


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