Environmental Defense Fund

How to leverage a donor’s lifecycle to improve performance

The challenge

Founded in 1967, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) works to solve the most critical environmental problems facing the planet: climate, oceans, ecosystems and health. Guided by science and economics, EDF finds practical and lasting solutions to the most serious environmental problems. Since the problems span multiple biospheres, EDF’s solutions take a multidisciplinary approach, working in concert with other organizations—as well as with business, government and communities—and avoiding duplicating work already being done effectively by others. Over the years, EDF has brought a series of innovations to the work of protecting the environment.

As a Russ Reid client since 2010, we have partnered with EDF in developing the strategy and creative for their direct mail program. One of the unique aspects of EDF’s direct response program, and program staff, is that they encourage a robust testing approach, providing us with the opportunity and enthusiasm to apply and understand the impact of the latest findings across the direct response industry and within the disciplines of neuromarketing and decision science, understanding why donors make the decisions they do and how we can leverage them.

For this particular effort, EDF and Russ Reid wanted to understand how a donor’s tenure with the organization would impact their Membership Renewal performance, if we were to message to them in targeted ways.

Industry research suggests that what motivates a donor to give to a specific organization varies based on their history with the organization; that a donor’s tenure (or lifecycle) will impact what they want to hear – and what they will respond to. The studies
• Donors in their First Year want to see a personal appeal with high readability; to
feel good about how the organization will use their donation
• Donors in their Second Year want to feel good about what the organization/they
are doing; that it’s a trustworthy organization
• Donors in their Third Year want to know that the organization uses their financial
resources wisely; to see how money is applied.

Russ Reid solution

In 2013, we implemented a Donor Lifecycle messaging track within EDF’s annual renewal series. We introduced this test in the 5th renewal notice, of a total of 8 mailed notices, because that was the point where we started to see renewal performance fatiguing year‐over‐year. The purpose of this test was to understand the impact of variable copy – copy that speaks directly to what we expect the donor to respond to based on their lifecycle with the organization – on Renewal performance.

Here is a sample of the variable copy we provided to donors in their Second Year with EDF.


You’ll see that, especially in the side bar, we’ve included copy that helps a donor feel good about EDF, their role and the support they’ve provided. This Donor Lifecycle track was maintained as a ‘closed‐class’ throughout the balance of the renewal series with donors only being removed from the class once they made a renewal gift.


The Donor Lifecycle messaging outperformed the control copy across all lifecycle groups and renewal notices, generating slightly more revenue overall than the control.

For the First Year donors this was driven primarily by response with a 24% increase in response rate. For the 2nd and 3+ year donors this was due to an increase in average gift, with as much as an 11% increase.

Next steps will include retesting this messaging within a larger population, and to understand if the results are specific to Renewals or if they could also be applied to other program offers and channels.