The Innovation of Envelope Design

The Backstory

For 40 years, Kelowna’s Gospel Mission has been feeding, housing and supporting the vulnerable to turn homelessness into wholeness. Frontier has had the pleasure of partnering with this transformational organization for the last four years.

Our main goal is to help organizations create lasting change. In order to make this happen, we focus on what we can do to ensure constant growth. This means we analyze every detail that goes into our client’s campaigns to ensure optimal donor engagement. Our experiments  compare and contrast different characteristics so that we are constantly providing the best results possible.

The results of some of our tests and innovations are shared in blog posts such as Behind the Design: A Case Study and Victoria Dandelion Society: A Case Study. Constant testing helps us to further tailor our strategies to our client’s individual needs. That’s why we’re sharing one of our most recent tests with you, today.

The Test

Here at Frontier, we get pretty excited about the design of envelopes. Why? Because the design of a sealable paper container could be the difference between obtaining a donation or not.

Generally, for Kelowna’s Gospel Mission newsletters, we create outer envelopes that are minimalist in design. This is because we send out five per year, alternating with fundraising appeals that have much more vibrant and colourful outer envelopes. It’s a subtle way of branding the newsletters differently so that donors recognize them as soon as they open their mailbox. (See image below.)


When we wondered whether we were missing out on a chance to share imagery on the newsletter’s outer envelope, we decided to conduct an A/B test! We were curious to see if adding a human face to an alternative newsletter envelope would be a motivator to open it up and see what was inside.

"We were wondering if adding a face, an emotionally stimulating, humanizing element, might increase donor engagement and donation revenue from newsletters.” — Chantal, Frontier designer

The image used on the alternative envelope is of a woman whose story is featured in the centrefold of the newsletter. She overcame obstacles and transformed her life with help from Harmony House, Kelowna’s Gospel Mission’s women’s centre. She appears smiling and content on the envelope, an accurate representation of her success story. (See image below.)

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The newsletter itself was the same for both versions, thanking donors for their support, recapping the previous year with a few stories, and providing an update for future initiatives and programs. The mailing list was randomly split in half, with half of donors receiving the regular, stripped-back version, and the other half receiving the trial version with the image.


When the results came in, we saw a neck-and-neck race between donors receiving version A versus B. Without an indication of one version performing better or worse than the other, what we can do is retest. It’s the name of the game with data-driven fundraising. Even if the results had drastically favoured one version over the other, the nature of increasing donation revenue from a newsletter has a number of variables at play. In order to ensure that the results were an accurate reflection of the variables under assessment, we’d need to perform the same test again, to understand more fully what is happening and what is working.

This is just one example of the many tests we’re regularly running, to find out what’s working with our fundraising, and what might work better. Innovation is a process, and a process we take seriously! By understanding the psychology behind influencing a donor, we can further sharpen our skills and strategies to create incredibly impactful and long-lasting outcomes for our clients.

What’s Next

Newsletters do not typically raise as much revenue as more aggressive fundraising appeals. But while the focus in newsletters is generally on thanking donors, because recognizing their generosity is key to keeping them around, it’s not a waste of time to want more. We hope you’ll stay tuned for other innovations that we’re implementing in our clients’ newsletters!

Introducing Dalit Freedom Network: Almost Four Years with Frontier!


Dalit Freedom Network Canada (DFN) is a remarkable non-profit helping Dalit people in India overcome oppression, realize their human worth and gain self-reliance—all through the gift of education. They are helping millions of Dalit people through the support of donors, but in a country with a population like India’s, it’s a massive challenge. Hundreds of millions are still in need.

In 2014, DFN was looking to increase revenue by establishing a strong foundation for fundraising. They had heard of Google AdWords Grants but weren’t using it, and needed an expert to help with their application. Their goals were to gain increased awareness, increased education funding and increased child sponsorships.

When Frontier heard about their need, we knew our data-driven, digital and integrated approach would be a great fit. We knew DFN’s team to be passionate about their life-changing, even world-changing work, so we were thrilled when they chose us to be their guide on the road to higher revenues.

Introducing Frontier

As of this coming fall, Frontier has spent four years with Dalit Freedom Network Canada and we’re thrilled to share some of the valuable improvements we’ve made to their fundraising program!

The first step we took toward building a strategy for long-term growth was an audit to discover and articulate DFN’s situation, strengths and weaknesses. We created an integrated marketing action plan that detailed all of our recommended fundraising and marketing activities for the year ahead—showing the way forward to sustainable growth.

Game Plan

In our action plan, we included a month-by-month direct response (mail and email) fundraising strategy, and committed to donor acquisition and donor retention targets.

Throughout strategizing and production, we kept in close contact with DFN leadership to ensure that every piece was consistent with their core identity. We also pitched in with ideas for stories and media relations, shared from a marketing perspective.

In collaboration with DFN leaders, we developed a visual identity guide and a writing style guide. In this way, we could confidently build out from marketing products that were already in place—maintaining the values of their mission while we moved toward bigger and better.

One of the first projects we took on was the rebrand of their newsletter, The Dalit Report. We set up a consistent schedule of quarterly, seasonal issues. Each issue recaps the highlights of the season and shows donors the true value of their impact. Each shares a feature story, a donor profile and a personal message from Sherry Bailey, DFN Canada’s Executive Director. We even created a special, annual Wish List edition to appear in homes each Christmas season (see image of cover below). Newsletters are created largely as cultivation pieces, to develop long-term relationships with donors by showing accountability, piquing their interest, giving them feedback, and in general fostering interaction, trust and ownership. After all, statistics show—and other fundraising authorities agree—that donors who are personally thanked, who have seen results, and who are connected to the organization through multiple media pathways are more likely to give again.



Once DFN had a chance to see our products in action and garnering results, they entrusted us with the creation of three brand new campaigns:

  • Family Day Campaign

  • Christmas

  • Year End, with a tax calculator

We also took two of DFN’s existing campaigns and brought them to a whole new level:

  • Freedom Campaign — essentially rejigged the whole campaign, with all new digital integration (see example of email header image below).

  • Back to School


In addition to these annual fundraising items, we also signed on to give their website a refresher. We updated its messaging and style to match DFN’s other media platforms, creating a more user-friendly experience and restructuring the flow of the website to funnel all visitors to the donate page. In all campaigns, newsletters and the website, we seamlessly integrated the messaging and brand to develop trust and consistency across all mediums.

For each campaign, we also studied our data and our donors and implemented targeted fundraising through segmentation, so that we could inspire many different types of donors to give. (If you want to know more about donor segmentation, check out our post on it here.) When sending out appeals, newsletters and emails, it’s important to remember that we’re communicating with real live people on the other end, and we have to be relevant to them. So we made every effort to connect with them on a human level and demonstrate shared values.

Working with Frontier for the past several years, I am impressed by how they have not only raised the standard of both our print and digital campaigns, but are constantly looking for ways to improve our communication with our donors. Frontier captures the essence of who we are as a ministry and articulates our story with engaging content and great design.
— Sherry Bailey, Executive Director, Dalit Freedom Network Canada

The Numbers

Beyond developing a wonderful and healthy relationship with DFN’s team, we were able to impress them with consistent growth and help move them towards the vision of freedom for all Dalits!

DFN’s revenue for 2014 was $3,638,862 and over the following year grew to a total revenue of $5,526,920 for 2015. That’s a 51.9% annual increase! Several factors played into this great increase, including the work of Frontier to help  grow their integrated fundraising. Compared to the annual increase from 2013 to 2014 of 28.8%, this was an exciting—but not surprising—number to present to DFN. We also saw exponential growth as we closed out the 2016 year.

To put their growth in perspective, in 2015, we effectively raised $73,613 through the website and $15,643 through emails. In 2016, web revenue increased to $156,629 and emails brought in $37,012. If the email revenue looks small, remember that the ROI is always huge, and in this case, 744%!

Finally, in 2017, we saw an 25% increase in print revenue compared to 2016, and a 35% increase in the average gift amount given in response to print pieces! DFN also experienced a 19% increase in web revenue year over year!

When we first took on DFN as a client in October 2014, they had a donor list for print of approximately 6,000. By sending a warm acquisition to people who were connected with DFN but hadn’t yet given, we grew this list well past 7,500. This growth in print communication plays a big role in the number of donor visits to the website as well, and even the amount of emails that get opened and clicked.



The numbers don’t lie; our strategies work. The number of donors who have given 10 or more gifts per year has grown by 32%. That means overall, as we focus on the long-term, more Dalit families can get an education and find freedom.

Our primary focus for the past year has been mobile and tablet driven marketing efforts and continuing to bridge the gap between donors and the tangible results of their support. For example, last year’s Back to School campaign showed a school being built in increments based off of donations. We will continue creating innovative campaign elements in order to really engage donors with their impact. We also aim to streamline the transition between print appeals and online donations, as well as moving into a more ‘personal’ format for campaign appeals - including handwritten notes from Dalit children, because there’s nothing like a true story to inspire action.

Furthermore, we are gaining insight into the migration of donors from print to digital mediums. For each large print campaign execute, we also create and share a specific URL tied to that campaign to track which print campaigns are generating online donations. This allows us to more accurately report on print donations, as well as print donations made through digital channels.

We’re always thrilled to see what new, world-changing projects DFN is working on. It means that we get to work with real-life stories of people who are being impacted in wonderful ways and we’re so honoured to play a part! We anticipate many more years of continued growth together and look forward to sharing more awesome results.

What Canadian Charities need to know about GDPR

What is GDPR?
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) has recently (as of May 25, 2018) been enacted in the European Union. It oversees how personal data is processed and increases the rights of each member in your lists. Currently, the GDPR is only relevant in the EU and individuals that live in the EU, but many speculate it’s only a matter of time before similar regulations are enacted worldwide. In the meantime, for charities in Canada, the Canada Not-for-profit Corporation Act and your provincial societies act apply as it has previously.

What is considered “Personal Data”?
Personal Data refers to any information that can identify an individual such as their name and contact information. Indeed, it also encompasses higher security information such as credit card information and criminal records information. 

Does the GDPR affect your charity?
If you have donors who live in the EU or you have charitable programs that operate in the EU, then yes the GDPR affects you. If not, it does not. If you have a some of donors in the EU, take this opportunity to reach out to them and ensure you have consent for sending them materials.

How does consent play into the GDPR?
If you are sending email and mail to your donor list, all you need to do is ensure that the user/donor had willingly signed up for your list at some point in the past. Opt in can be in the form of a simple checkbox on an online or paper form. The simplest thing to do is to go through your website form where people sign up for your newsletters and pull the data to indicate opt-in time. You don’t need to re-ask your list to opt-in again! 

Things you shouldn’t and can’t do under the GDPR:

  • Rent or sell your list of donor names to any external sales groups for extra income. This is common if you are a periodical subscription, but overall a poor practice in the nonprofit industry.

  • Don’t use your donor list to sell something unrelated to your charity or cause. It’s permissible to sell artisan goods made by the people your charity impacts, but it’s not permissible to send information about a corporate sponsors’ product. 

Things you should do:

  • Ensure you have a privacy policy. If you don’t have one, now is the time to put a document together to assure your donors that you take their privacy seriously and have internal ways to manage processing data.

  • Be extra clear on what donors are signing up for when they provide their contact information or email address. For example, in the donation process let donors know that the information that is collected is used to issue their tax receipt. Be transparent and let donors decide whether or not they want to receive your newsletter updates.

Friendly Reminder About CASL

Even though GDPR may not apply to you as a Canadian Charity, there is still CASL.

What is CASL?
CASL (Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation) was enacted to stop spam and data harvesting, and allows users to unsubscribe from unwanted email solicitation. CASL applies to all Commercial Electronic Messages (CEMs). 

A CEM is an electronic message that encourages participation in a commercial, profit-generating activity.

Good news! This means that it does not generally apply to not-for-profit fundraising!

Electronic media for which fundraising is the primary purpose need not comply with CASL. 

What activities does CASL apply to?
There are some activities that many nonprofits do that ARE considered CEMs. If you engage in any of the following, you need to adhere to CASL:

  • Soliciting for registration to your program/service
  • Selling products (i.e. goods associated with your cause, but are not for fundraising purposes “Buy these handmade crafts. Proceeds go to the makers in XYZ country.”)

Any electronic message where you are selling a product or service to users who receive something in return (a commercial transaction) MUST comply with CASL.

Solicitations solely for funds or confirming information need not comply with CASL. Here are a few examples of solicitations that generally do NOT need to comply:

  • Fundraising Campaigns: i.e. Donate to send a kid to camp!
  • Matching Campaigns: i.e Contribute to our matching campaign!
  • Notifications that a donation was received
  • Confirmation of contact information

Is the email asking for a monetary transaction? Evaluate what needs to comply with CASL and what doesn’t by asking: “Can this transaction be charitably receipted?” If the answer to your specific question is yes, you do not need to worry about CASL and vice versa.

What to do if you have Messages that Need to Adhere to CASL

Ensure all your contacts have willingly subscribed to your solicitation.
Have your recipients checked a box on your donation form or website indicating that they want to receive your emails? Is this a voluntary field? If not, you do not have their consent to send CEMs. 

Make sure your sender contact information is clear in your CEM.
CASL requires all CEMs sent to have a clear sender. Whether this is an internal staff or your executive director, you need to provide the name, mailing address, and either a phone number or an email of the sender.

Provide a simple unsubscribing mechanism.
Users who receive your CEM need to be able to unsubscribe easily without cost. Include a link at the footer of your email that allows users to unsubscribe. Their request must also be processed within 10 business days.

Disclaimer: This post is not legal advice and we’re not lawyers. While we think this post is packed with useful information, it is for informational purposes only, and Frontier is not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.

Behind the Design: A Case Study


Here at Frontier, we strive to develop fundraising research that always pushes the industry to improve, which in turn helps charities have a greater impact in the world. This means that our marketing decisions are grounded in research and testing in order to produce the best results for our clients and continue shaping industry best practices. 

To understand how we could improve our direct mail appeals for our clients, we commissioned Predictive Eye Tracking to report on one of our mailer designs.

Predictive Eye Tracking is a software model based on decades of neuroscientific research that predicts where on the page readers’ eyes are drawn in the first 3-5 seconds of reading. This enables designers to place key information in spots where it will have the most impact. These tests produce a heat map image of the results, along with statistics relating to page complexity and noticeability.

  • The page complexity score measures how much visual clutter is present on the image.

  • The noticeability metric produces a list of the top elements on the page that will be noticed within the first 3-5 seconds.

  • Finally, the heat map indicates areas of highest focus with red spots.

Until recently, the technology to produce these reports was only available for digital mediums, so the newfound ability to test our print campaigns is very exciting.

The Opportunity

During our first interaction with predictive eye tracking reports for our print campaigns, we learned that user engagement was low on the back page of our direct mail appeal. After analysing the report, we hypothesized that the large volume of uninterrupted body copy on the back page may be the main culprit that was losing donors’ attention. This provided us with an opportunity to optimize this space to emphasize the client’s message. But how?

The Fix

This discovery was a call to immediate action for our team! We got creative with the next direct mail appeal we sent out. This currently under-utilized space had the potential to leave a large impact on current and prospective donors; our challenge was to utilize it in such a way that it added value for the client. So, our team developed the idea of creating impact statistic graphics to insert on the back page.

Not only would this give the eye a place to land by breaking up the text, but it would also provide a space to further emphasize important points to the donor.  Most importantly, it would allow a donor to visualize how they can be the hero in the story, all within the first 3-5 seconds of flipping over the appeal letter. Impact statistics offer tangible and visual metrics that are quick to digest, all while emphasizing the impact donors can have on real lives. 

However, at Frontier we are not satisfied with assuming we’ve solved the problem; we test to ensure it’s solved. So we ordered another predictive report, this time on our new design. The results came back overwhelmingly positive: the back page received a focus rate score of 93.7%, which indicates highly focused attention. Additionally, the new impact statistic graphic was the top focus item on the heat map. Essentially, the new infographic stole the show, dramatically  increasing overall donor engagement with the page.

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Applied Results

Not only did the Predictive Eye Tracking test results prove that this was a worthwhile change, but the real life results we have seen from our clients also verify this.

The success of this design means that now we have another strategy for effectively communicating clients’ messages to potential donors. Since confirming our theory with the predictive eye tracking test and seeing our clients’ real-life fundraising results, we have gone on to integrate this design into many of the mailers we create for our clients.

But we haven’t just inserted basic impact statistic graphics into all our mailers. We have taken the principles of these solutions and tailored them to each of our client’s individual needs, based on who they are as an organization and even when in the year the campaign launches. This design has contributed to the success of numerous mailers, and is particularly applicable for campaigns with tangible asks.

By sharing this type of research publicly, Frontier continues developing our industry’s understanding of effective fundraising practices. For example, our general manager, Mariam Ghani, presented these findings at the 2017 Pursuit conference in Edmonton, AB so that other fundraisers could gain from our research.

“It was a privilege presenting to other non-profits to share that direct mail fundraising continues to be an effective tool, and even more so now when we have the technology to optimize it further.” - Mariam Ghani, General Manager, Frontier

Through research like these tests, our goal is to help shape industry best practices so that organizations like our clients and can raise support more effectively than ever before.