Nonprofit Mailing Basics including NCOA & CASS

Return to sender stampThe basics rules of nonprofit mailings are the same as those of private industry–just  a little cheaper! The USPS offers a Non-Profit Bulk class, Presorted Standard (Bulk), and First Class options; each with distinct differences in requirements, cost and services, and the rates for each piece will vary by size and precision of addressing. To receive a Non-Profit (Bulk) rate, an application must be submitted and approved. 

Move Update Requirements: Organizations sending bulk mail must meet USPS “move update” requirements by proving that all addresses have been updated to include registered NCOA (National Change of Address) information within the 95 days prior to mailing. These updates are typically managed by your mailing house, and mail pieces are addressed with the most current information provided by the screening. Organization’s need only sign a process form, and ensure that NCOA changes are imported or manually updated in the database after the mailing goes out ot bee “move update” requirements.

Cost: Bulk postage rates are fairly complex, and the savings per piece depends on the type of the item and the precision of addressing. Organizations processing their own mail must obtain a bulk-rate permit, but the mailing house’s permit can be used when they are processing the job.

There are two different rates within the Non-Profit Standard rate; the presort rate and the automation rate. Both are sorted by ZIP Code, but to qualify for the automation rate, other preparation, design and addressing requirements must be met.

Other Requirements: Presorted Standard and Non-Profit pieces must be “presorted” in ZIP code order and bundled by ZIP code upon delivery to the post office–a service typically provided by a mailing house. There must be a minimum of 200 pieces in the mailing, all the same weight and size, and the weight cannot exceed 3.4 ounces for letters and 16 ounces for flats.

Speed of Delivery: First Class typically arrives in-state within to 3 days; nation-wide between 1 and 6 days; Presorted Standard and Non-Profit usually take 5 to 10 days in-state, and 5-15 days nationwide.

Service: First Class automatically includes the forwarding or return of mail if the recipient has moved. Bulk mail is not forwarded unless you use an Ancillary Service Endorsement and pay additional fees.  Ancillary Services to consider adding to your Bulk mailing are:

  • Return Service Requested, which results in undeliverable pieces being returned to you with updated address information
  • Address Service Requested, which means you want the Postal Service to forward the piece to the new address on file and to separately send you a notice with the new address information, and
  • Forwarding Service Requested, which will forward pieces at no charge but will not provide a separate new address notification back to you.

All of these services require a  Return Address must be on the piece.

Content: Bulk mail packages must be generic items, such as newsletters, generalized letters or notices; and cannot contain personalized items, such as statements or bills.

Appearance: First Class mail uses a live stamp, whereas the default for Bulk mail is a printed indicia, considered a tell-tale sign of a direct mail item. To improve the appearance of items sent by bulk, pre-cancelled stamps can be purchased for  $.10 or $.15 each, in coils of 500 or more, with the additional cost of postage to be paid when the mail is dropped off at the post office. For example, if the Non-Profit postage rate for a piece is $.25, and a $.15 stamp has been applied, the balance due will be $.10. The USPS doesn’t charge extra for using stamps, however your mailing house may charge a small fee to affix them.

Nonprofit NCOA Requirements and CASS Validation

Over  44 million individuals and businesses move each year, which costs the Postal Service $2 billion dollars a year in processing costs for undelivered mail. It also means that up to 17% of a mailing list becomes deliverable every year unless action to update it is taken. Recognizing their shared incentives, the USPS and the mailing industry have developed services and certification programs to maintain and test the accuracy of address data. The most prominent of these programs are NCOA (National Change of Address) and CASS (Coding Accuracy Support System).

Organizations sending Bulk mail must meet USPS “move update” requirements by proving that all addresses have been updated in the last 95 prior to the mailing with Change of Address information. There are several ways to do this, but the most efficient method is using the NCOALink, an address correction service provided by vendors that have been licensed by the Postal Service. The Postal Services updates the NCOA databases every week with new addresses for individuals, households and businesses who have moved, and the mailing house checks the mailing list against the NCOA records. Any “matches” indicate a donor has moved and the address you have for them needs to be updated (typical match rates range from 4 to 6% of the file), and the new address needs to be used for the current mailing.

NCOALink  provides new address information in a digital format, which your mailing house can provide to you as an import file (instead of you having to manually re-enter addresses). Some software products provide automatic record updates–see the bottom of this post for more information.

Once your list has been updated with NCOA changes, you may wish to add a CASS validation. The additional cost is nominal, and it is a quick way to correct and standardize the formatting of your addresses to reflect USPS standards.

Cass Validation

Address Standardization: Addresses in your list will be standardized according to USPS specifications. For example, Avenue will be abbreviated to “AVE” and “#” may be replaced by “STE” or “APT.”

Address Correction: CASS validation will attempt to correct misspellings and add required information if it’s missing, such as ZIP code, +4 code and carrier route.

Address Updating: Occasionally a street name or rural route will change, in which case CASS validation will update the record with the new address.

Address Verification: After the addresses have been standardized, corrected, and updated, they are compared with a list of addresses that the USPS considers valid and complete. CASS processing does not validate the person or business that is at the address, but it does validate whether mail can be delivered to an address.

Note, CASS validation cleans up your file, but doesn’t actually update the addresses of donors who have moved, and so does not fulfill the “Move update” requirement for all Bulk mailings. If you opt for a CASS validation, be certain that you are also receiving an NCOA screening.

It’s also worth noting that, although NCOA is a great service, 20% of people who move don’t fill out a card with the post office and will not be picked up by the service. Additionally, it is limited to the last 48 months of moves, so if you haven’t updated your addresses in the last four years, you will have undeliverable addresses after the NCOA screening. Ask your mailing house about proprietary services that offer a longer history of change of address data.

Some donor management software products offer a fully integrated NCOA screening and address update, which can save staff days of tedious manual entry, or potentially, hours of frustrating, multi-pass imports. Both Raiser’s Edge and eTapestry are seamlessly integrated with Target Analytics (a Blackbaud product). DonorPerfect and GiftWorks are partnered with NCOA/CASS vendors that will update addresses directly in your database, and various other products are partnered with Lorton Data.

If your software isn’t partnered or integrated with a data enhancement vendor, such as Target Analytics or WealthEngine, there are a host of certified providers you can contract with directly, or just work with your mailing house to ensure you receive a digital file after your next mailing so you can import NCOA changes.

More Great Resources:

Lorton Data

NCOA Licensed Providers 

USPS 2014 Postage Rate Card

DonorPerfect NCOA Services 

BlackBaud Data Enrichment Services (for eTapestry and The Raiser’s Edge)

GiftWorks NCOA/CASS Services