Keep it Clean: Tips for nonprofit mail list management

RolodexNonprofit are moving toward the cheaper, faster email-centric communications model–but print is still king in the fundraising industry. And whereas mass email services like MailChimp and Constant Contact magically suppress duplicate emails and opt-out addresses, your organization’s back office is most likely still managing the print mail list–and most likely up to their elbows in address updates and returned mail pieces.

Below are three things you can do to improve the quality of your print mail list in just hours per month:


1. NCOA Updates: When a mailing house runs your mail list through an NCOA screening, undeliverable addresses from your file are overwritten with the updated addresses on the mail piece, and the piece is posted. Your organization is then provided a printed report of records with updated addresses, which is often used by staff and volunteers to manually update database records. But there are far less tedious ways to update your file with NCOA changes.

Many software products offer an integrated screening service as a part of your subscription or for an additional fee, usually around $200-$350 for 10,000 records. Most vendors will pull data directly from your software, run the screening, and update your records without you ever touching an address.

If an integrated solution is not available to you, you can create your own “automatic update process” that updates records using the digital file the mail house used. Simply add the necessary fields to your mail list export, which will allow you to correctly match the donor and address when re-importing the updated data. This method requires a little more effort, but offers one big advantage over integrated services: you can change the ugly USPS standardized formats back to your organization’s preferred format before importing (for example, replace “LN” with “Lane”).

2. De-Dupe: Most software products have a systems-defined duplicate record report. This report can be scary the first time you run it, and will likely spur you to rethink the way you manage business addresses and contacts, how you household families, and how searchable name and nickname fields are used. But it can also be the single most important data clean-up project on that long list.

Many systems allow you to run duplicate reports based on queries or filters, allowing your team to create smaller de-duping projects that can be easily prioritized. For example, start by de-duping contributors to top giving circles, and work your way down the ‘pyramid.’

Many systems allow administrators to define the precision of a match as well as what fields to include in the match. For example, you could select a low-precision setting that returns as possible duplicates all records with the same first three letters in the first and last names, and a ‘fuzzy’ match address. This “low-precision” match would result in a possible match between Daniel Munson at 256 Park Street and Daniella Munger at 2983 Parkson Road. It would also return as a match Daniel Munson and Daniella Munson–likely a duplicate with a misspelling.

The ability to change match settings let you balance the inconvenience of too many non-matches appearing in the report with the risk of missing misspellings, nicknames or other near-misses. The match settings will be applied to the duplicate report, as well as internal duplicate searches such as Gift Imports, Online Form Updates, Address Updates, and search-bar searches.

3. Use Mail Codes: Your organization will certainly have a “do not mail” code to suppress certain records from receiving mail, and likely an opt-out code as well, but there may be important options missing. There might also be one or two codes in this section that don’t belong. Review and clean this list to ensure that your constituents’ communication preferences are being recorded and honored, and that your organization is sending the right communications to the intended recipients.

Think of Mail Codes as the “Do Nots.” If there are codes that parallel Giving Interests, Groups and Affiliations, or Donors, move these out of mail codes and to appropriate fields, and consider refining your “Do Nots” to better reflect your communication practices. Below is an expanded list of mail codes to consider. No single organization would use all of these, but each one serves a specific purpose, and you might find two or three a welcomed addition to your communications program:

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Unverified Address: Suppresses from mailings pending an address update via research or NCOA updates. Once resolved, may receive mail assuming no other mail restrictions.

Do Not Mail: Do not send institutional mail of any kind, via print or email.

Electronic Only: Send institutional mail via email only, no print materials.

Do Not Call: Do not contact by phone, may be Donor-requested or Organization-determined.

Do Not Contact Youth/Client: Record source is programming, and constituent is not to be contacted until certain age/time conditions are met. Once resolved, may receive mail assuming no other mail restrictions.

Do Not Solicit by Mass Appeal: Procedurally-determined status indicating Donors who are to be solicited through the Major Donor communications track (not General Appeal).

Do Not Solicit per Org: Staff-determined status to be excluded from ALL forms of solicitation.

Do Not Solicit per Donor: Donor-requested status to be excluded from ALL forms of solicitation.

Solicit Year-End Only: Send one solicitation per year, year-end only.