Response Rate Goals

Reply envelope.

At last week’s Storytelling Conference, I was asked a really good question:

“My organization is new to direct mail. What kind of response rates should I be getting?”

In case it’s helpful to you, here’s my answer:

For printed appeals my goal is a 4% response rate

For printed newsletters my goal is a 3% response rate

Those are helpful benchmarks, and I hope they help you judge how your mail is performing.

But I have to mention, things start to get interesting right away. Take a look at these variables:

  • The more donors you have, the lower your response rates tend to be. For an organization with 40,000 donors, achieving 3% for an appeal and 2% or 2.2% for a newsletter might be success.
  • The fewer donors you have, the higher your response rates tend to be. If you have 500 donors, you might be getting a 6% response rate on appeals, and a 4% response rate on newsletters.
  • Finally, who you include on the mailing list is another big variable. If you include your monthly donors, your response rates tend to go up. If you include lapsed donors who haven’t made a gift in 36 months, your response rate will go down.

I hope this helps you or your team have benchmarks and goals to aim for. And that there are variables that need to be taken into account. What “success” looks like varies quite a bit from organization to organization – even from mailing to mailing.

The important thing is to measure your results so you know what works best for your organization, and then do more of that!


Steven Screen is Co-Founder of The Better Fundraising Company and lead author of its blog. With over 25 years' fundraising experience, he gets energized by helping organizations understand how they can raise more money. He’s a second-generation fundraiser, a past winner of the Direct Mail Package of the Year, and data-driven.

5 comments on “Response Rate Goals

  1. Steven, thank you very much for this information! We too are new to “direct mailings” and so I might feel these lower single digit return rates as discouraging. Thank you for your pearls of wisdom and setting out realistic expectations. I’m looking forward to more blog submissions! Have a wonderful weekend!

  2. Thanks for the estimates. We are doing our first large-scale mailer and don’t know what to expect.

    In our case, we don’t really have a mailing list, so we’re doing a (mostly) cold mailer to our community. I wonder if you have any estimates of how cold mailings generally do?

    1. Hi Becky! When you’re doing a mailing to a cold list, you’re doing what’s called “acquisition.” A successful response rate would be between about .7% and higher. Anything over 1% would be considered a great success in an acquisition context. Does that help?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *