Marketing & Communications Centre > Marketing Essentials > Help Sheets > Hot lists, Warm lists, Cold lists

Hot lists, Warm lists, Cold lists

When your community group starts looking at the use of a database for marketing and attracting new donors, supporters, members, volunteers and the like, you are likely to come across terms like "hot list" "warm list" and "cold list".

Gaining an understanding of these terms can impact on the rates of responses you gain and save time and money through developing and purchasing lists that best meet your needs for a direct mail campaign.

What are these lists and what are their differences?

"Hot", "warm" and "cold" are names given to different types of lists to denote the likelihood of response from people receiving your direct mail-out.

Hot lists are generally made up of people who already have immediate contact, or have made some type of commitment to your group.

Contacting these people by direct mail-out is likely to achieve a higher than average level of response due to the prior association with your group.  

Some examples of hot lists include:
  • Your current donors or fundraisers.
  • Present members, volunteers and board members
  • Your business partners
  • People who have directly benefited from the good work of your organisation
These four categories are probably the "hottest" of those that make up a hot list. They are directly and currently involved and linked to your group, so their level of recognition is high.

Slightly less "hot", but also often included in definitions of hot lists, are:
  • Lapsed donors or fundraisers from the past year.
  • Former members and volunteers - again, from the past year.
While not in current involvement or contact with your group, they have had contact quite recently and would therefore still have high levels of recognition of your group.

Warm lists are those who are a further step removed from your group. People on a warm list have usually have heard of you or, even if they haven't, can be linked to you through other factors.

Some examples of warm lists include:
  • Past donors, fundraisers, members, volunteers, etc. who have had contact with your organisation, but not for a while, or only briefly.
  • People who have heard of your group and have some knowledge about what it does.
  • Friends or associates of current members, volunteers, supporters, donors, etc.
  • People in your geographic, social or other area of interest who have heard of your group.
  • Those who donate or support similar organisations to yours - for example, people who support a not-for-profit with the same cause as your own - but who have not heard of or given to your group.
Warm list response rates can vary, but are usually between one and three per cent.

Cold lists vary, but the common thread is that your group knows little about the people on them, what they do, their interests, etc.

Examples of cold lists include:
  • A phone book.
  • A local directory or White Pages.
  • A list that is more than a year old - as many of the people on that list may have moved on.
A catchy, well-written or well-designed direct mail piece could still attract a one per cent response rate from a cold list. While this is a small percentage, the response via direct mail is far greater than any other way of reaching large numbers of people who do not know about your group.

With methods other than a well put together direct mail approach, estimates of average cold list response can run at half a percent, or even less.

Why your group needs to know the differences

For a number of reasons, it is important your community group knows the differences in the types of lists - either in the development of your own or in buying access to one.
  • It can save money (1) - if you are buying access to a list, knowing what sort of list you want can ensure that you do not receive something other than what you paid for.
  • It can save money (2) - if your group is after a certain type of list, knowing what the requirements are may allow you to more easily develop a list that fulfils your needs, without the expense of buying access to one.
  • It can save time - if you know the type of list you want you can talk to a list broker "in their language" when buying access to a list.
  • It can help develop a list to your specifications - if your group is after a certain level of response from a direct mail, you can use this level to develop a hot, warm or cold list to meet your specifications.
  • It can help you buy access to a list that matches your needs.
  • It makes you more aware of levels of response from certain list types - Your group will know not to expect a 50 per cent response rate to a direct mail-out based on a cold list, for example.
The key to success in any direct mail-out is ensuring the details on the list are accurate.

Make sure you take the time to check the spelling of each name on your list. If you are asking someone to support you with either their time or money, you have more hope of success if you have at least shown the courtesy to spell their name correctly.

Also check addresses and postcodes. An incorrect address or postcode may mean that the letter won't even be delivered in the first place.
For more information about building your hot or warm lists, refer to the upcoming help sheet Building your hot or warm list, available at the Media & Marketing Centre on the Our Community website.

More information on lists is available in the Mailing and Database Management section of the Media & Marketing Centre on the Our Community website. In this section there is information on how to buy access, create, manage, update and get the most from a database list.

The information contained on this site is subject to change. Our Community will not be liable for any loss or damage whatsoever coming from reliance placed on all or part of its contents.