The Problem of Undeliverable Mail

Undeliverable mail is a $20 billion annual industry-wide problem. Anywhere between 25 to 40 percent of address changes aren’t reported to the United States Postal Service (USPS), meaning that even when mail files are updated, there is still a portion of mail not reaching its intended donor.

And for nonprofit organizations already operating on skinny budgets, it is essential that every dollar that can be saved or raised is. Direct mail fundraising already requires an initial investment of time and money, as there are many costs involved. From printing and production to postage expenses, each piece of mail sent out impacts the number of donors and dollars an organization brings in. Not only does undeliverable mail incur unnecessary spending, it can also lead to potential lost donations and even donor drop-off.

Research has found that approximately 53 percent of donors leave an organization due to lack of effective communications. Not only do contact inaccuracies cost organizations money, but a nonprofit’s reputation can take a hit. Research also shows that over a period of four years, 30 to 40 percent of people in an organization’s database will have changed addresses or passed away.

The good news is there are ways to improve deliverability of mail files, both active and lapsed, and re-engage with donors who have been deemed “undeliverable” in your database.

How Better Data Can Get Your Mail to the Right Place

An updated database can enhance address lists and records so nonprofits can build on their existing donor retention efforts and refine their approach to lapsed re-engagement. There are several important hygiene tools and processes that can keep your data clean and accurate.

Providing proof that the National Change of Address (NCOA) has been run within the last 95 days is a legal requirement affording nonprofits a price break on their postage rate.

Unfortunately for nonprofit organizations, NCOA only updates folks who have submitted a change of address to USPS. Approximately, only 60 percent of annual moves are reported meaning nonprofits risk losing the other 40 percent of donors whose change in address goes untracked. Also, to mail at a nonprofit rate, organizations must submit their house file for NCOA certification at least every 95 days. Despite shrinking budgets, organizations have to spend extra funds every quarter to track down address changes.

With this being said, Proprietary Address Enhancement Services (PAES) run files through NCOA and offer the required certification for USPS, while also compiling online and offline footprints through sources like subscriptions, financial institutions, and retail sources. By going beyond the matches available through NCOA, address enhancement services provide an average 5 to 8 percent increase in matches over NCOA alone. We recommend using such services on the same cadence – if not more frequently – than running files only through NCOA.

Another often overlooked process that your organization should practice is de-duping, which is the removing or merging duplicate records in a nonprofit’s contact database. Sending multiple mailers to one address drives up costs and can also leave a negative impression.

The Impact on Your Year-End Fundraising Efforts

Maintaining an up-to-date donor file means more mail gets to the right place and person. This can translate into more nonprofit revenue because less money is lost through the process. It also ensures that a nonprofit reaches the largest number of donors – both active and lapsed.

Continued donor communication builds relationships and ultimately improves overall retention. Whether a simple thank-you note or a fundraising appeal, it is critical that all pieces of mail are getting to first-time, annual, and lapsed donors. Every interaction a donor has with a nonprofit impacts future giving.

By keeping donor data updated and databases clean, every piece of mail that reaches past, present and future supporters is getting to where it should, and can translate into more donations. Most importantly, these easy-to-implement services keep costs down so nonprofits can better focus on its mission.

What Else Can Your Nonprofit Do?

PAES is an easy and quick way to increase revenue and response rate among direct mail campaigns, simply by reaching more of a nonprofit’s mail file – without accounting for potential revenue down the road. PAES can be run and returned in approximately 4 to 5 days – and it can integrate seamlessly into production schedules.

There are some other best practices nonprofits should adopt to maximize fundraising efforts:

  • Make it a habit to clean your database annually – better data hygiene will standardize records to ensure that you’re working with the most accurate and up-to-date information available.
  • Focus on audience segmentation – it’s imperative that the right message and ask is going to the right donors. This means scrutinizing creative and messaging to ensure they’re good communication matches for the selected mail audience.
  • And that leads to final point – test, test, test! Not everything will beat the control, but refining creative and messaging makes it possible to stay in front of potential package and message fatigue. (We have all been there at one point or another!)

These suggestions can help your organization increase response rates, market penetration and overall donor retention. With these best practices in mind, your organization can improve the efficiency of fundraising programs, ultimately allowing resources to focus on more important work related to your mission.

As Vice President of Strategy at Merkle RMG, Amy Bobrick brings her extensive background in nonprofit and political fundraising to response management. A staunch believer that the same amount of effort to get the mail out the door should be carried through to the processing of the donation and subsequent donor experience, Amy leads the development of back-end solutions at Merkle RMG to continue donor conversations, facilitate the ultimate donor experience and tackle industry challenges. With her knowledge-base deeply rooted in the implementation and execution — and the strategy and analytics — of fundraising, she brings a unique perspective to the team that enables Merkle RMG to deliver strategic solutions that complement clients’ fundraising efforts. For over a decade, Amy has worked with nonprofits, presidential campaigns and political organizations to develop integrated multi-channel fundraising strategies. She is a graduate of Providence College with a B.A. in Political Science and Economics.
Twitter: @AmyBMerkleRMG


Fundraising Friday | October 13, 2017

October 13, 2017

A powerful example of digital communications, including the email header (“One act. Double the impact.”, the opening hook, the social media integration, and the compelling opportunity to not only give but give bigger. This week’s What’s in my Inbox. Will you be attending the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference? This week’s Power of Nonprofit Storytelling. When subscriber […]

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What’s In My Mailbox | Green Mountain United Way anticipates their best fundraising fall — ever!

October 11, 2017

Carrie Stahl, Director of Funding & Program Development for Green Mountain United Way, recently wrote me to share this: Thanks to some great advice in your enews, and some samples on your website, I am personally having my best fundraising fall. We United Ways start early so as not to compete with our agency partners. […]

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What’s In My Inbox | Everytown galvanizes donors to give double for gun safety

October 10, 2017

I’ve covered communications from Everytown Gun Safety before. A merge between Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America shortly after Sandy Hook happened. The US Senate had been debating changes to federal gun laws, including a failed amendment that would’ve enforced background checks for gun sales occurring at gun shows […]

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Power of Storytelling | The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference is taking on America, one story at a time!

October 9, 2017

The Nonprofit Storytelling Conference is a conference unlike any other in the world. NSC’s goal is rooted in this idea: With better stories, you can raise more money. To that end, they invite fundraisers to partake in a potentially life-changing and fundraising-transforming experience. If you’re the least bit skeptical, check out their About page. And then check […]

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Fundraising Friday | October 6, 2017

October 6, 2017

If you’re a fundraiser and you’re NOT following HONY on Facebook, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice, and you’re putting your donors at a disadvantage, too. How come? Because you’re missing out on some of the best storytelling on the internet. This week’s Power of Nonprofit Storytelling. Do you remember when text to give was […]

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What’s In My Inbox | Text message donor communications, yay or nay? (Hint: it depends)

October 3, 2017

When it comes to nonprofit communications, should you communicate with your donors via text messaging, simply because you can? It depends. On your donors. On your mission. According to MobileCause, “Millennials prefer text reminders, GenXers prefer email reminders, and Boomers prefer call reminders.” Text messaging has the potential to mobilize engagement, especially when it comes […]

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Power of Storytelling | So what does a Dreamer look like? HONY has stories…

October 2, 2017

For this week’s storytelling installment, we’re once again casting the spotlight on Humans of New York (HONY) — and for good reason. Let me tell you something. If you’re a fundraiser and you’re NOT following HONY on Facebook, you’re doing yourself a serious disservice, and you’re putting your donors at a disadvantage, too. How come? Because […]

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Fundraising Friday | September 29, 2017

September 29, 2017

Social justice nonprofits face immense challenges under the current administration, but, as JFK said, “The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.” Eyes on the Prize: Current Fundraising Opportunities & Challenges […]

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7 Highlights from The Copywriting Cure feedback session (of which there were many…)

September 28, 2017

What do you get when you bring three of the nonprofit sector’s best copywriters together? Participants in our Year-End Fundraising webinar series found out. Author of How to Turn Your Words into Money and The Fundraiser’s Guide to Irresistible Communications; Jeff Brooks, Super-heroine of Colludo; Sheena Greer, and Principal of Hands-On Fundraising; Mary Cahalane, all […]

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Keep your head held high and your eye on the prize — especially now (repost)

September 26, 2017

I, like so many of you, can’t help but notice how politics have impacted not only our lives, but nonprofit organizations all over the country. Some nonprofits, especially those with causes rooted in social justice, have responded directly to what’s been going on, galvanizing their supporters and viewing the ongoing unrest as a catalyst for change. […]

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Power of Storytelling | 20 years of video in less than 7 minutes

September 25, 2017

Heifer International is a nonprofit organization with a global reach, and they’re also an alumni of my Basics & More | Nonprofit Storytelling course. Engaging with communities around the world, Heifer works toward ending hunger and poverty by implementing sustainable, earth-friendly solutions. Celebrating their 20th anniversary of working in Nepal, the organization sought a way to […]

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Fundraising Friday | September 22, 2017

September 22, 2017

In this week’s Power of Storytelling, we learn that adopting a purple hippo has never been more compelling 😉 Think about fundraising from a business owner’s perspective for a minute. Imagine if you opened a neighborhood pizzeria and the neighbors poured in, one after another, for ‘za…and none of them returned for a second pie! […]

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Fighting Second Gift Syndrome head-on: What’s your process for securing that second gift?

September 20, 2017

When it comes to getting that second gift, not a lot of nonprofits have a process in place. Despite the fact that they really need one. Luckily, some of the most respected in the field are giving it — what I’ve come to call “Second Gift Syndrome” — the attention it deserves, lending some much-needed […]

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What’s In My Inbox | UNICEF USA brings hope and help during distress

September 19, 2017

How are nonprofits handling catastrophe right now? UNICEF USA illustrates a powerful example of how to deal with a disaster. Their most recent email to land in my inbox is to the point, urgent, and effective. It opens with harrowing imagery that conveys deep distress. The text superimposed over the photograph of a young boy […]

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Power of Storytelling | Adopting a purple hippo has never been more compelling ;-)

September 18, 2017

  Appleton, Wisconsin-based Fox Valley Humane Association is a nonprofit shelter engaged in doing wonderful work for animals. FVHA recently utilized instagram as a storytelling platform, and the narrative, which progressed over the course of a few posts (including short video clips), was decidedly goal-oriented, but also humorous. Showcased on a blog called “Daily […]

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Fundraising Friday | September 15, 2017

September 15, 2017

Legacy giving has always been a hallmark of Simple Development Systems, so I like to point out exceptional examples of organizations doing it right. UNICEF UK has found a way to speak to their supporters about legacy giving by targeting specific donors and speaking directly to them about creating a lasting impact. This week’s Power […]

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Power of Storytelling | UNICEF UK finds legacy giving opportunities in storytelling

September 11, 2017

Ah, Founder’s Syndrome. It’s also known as “founderitis,” and it is a dreaded organizational illness. I’ve witnessed it time and time again with nonprofits, who face this difficulty when their founder (or founders), just can’t bear to let go. As a result, the founder wields the majority of the power and the other people involved in […]

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Fundraising Friday | September 8, 2017

September 8, 2017

Do you remember when Snooty, the oldest manatee in captivity, died at the South Florida Museum? Read this week’s Power of Nonprofit Storytelling for a prime example of transparency and honesty when systems go wrong. Are you a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” kind of person? I know that I get in my […]

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How long should you keep names in your database?

September 6, 2017

So…how long should an organization keep prospects, lapsed donors, and inactive volunteers in their database? Ahhhh. That’s a question that I get asked often. And the answer to this one is… Pretty much forever. I’ve witnessed plenty of resurrections over time, where lapsed donors “come back from the dead.” I can even tell you all about how […]

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