If your organization is like many others, the number of employees serviced by your mail center has shrunk in recent years. So why hasn't the volume of incoming Standard Class mail (catalogs, brochures and advertising mail) shrunk in proportion? In fact, you're probably finding that the volume of advertising mail is actually increasing over time. That's because former employees often continue to receive mail for years after they leave the company.


It's a source of frustration for many mail centers, especially those facing budget and staff cuts. Most mail centers simply discard advertising mail addressed to former employees. Even so, it's time consuming and costly (estimated to be as much as $18 per former employee) to receive, sort and discard or recycle the stacks of mail that marketers are sending to your former employees. And, of course, the environment pays the biggest price.


Why Do Marketers Keep Sending Mail to Your Former Employees?

If mail centers discard mail sent to outdated contacts, why do marketers continue sending it? Because they have no way of knowing which of the contacts on their business mailing lists are actually former employees. Without the ability to identify "bad" contacts, they continue sending mail to all of the contacts on their database. In fact, most marketers surveyed in a recent study realize that the business address is outdated for at least 30% of the contacts on their mailing lists, which means those mailpieces never reach a decision maker. Clearly, it's an unnecessary waste of marketing dollars. It's like the quote often attributed to retailer John Wannamaker, "I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half."


You may be thinking, "Doesn't the Postal Service have this information?" It doesn't. The U.S. Postal Service does maintain a National Change of Address database, but it only contains information on entire companies that have moved locations; the USPS has no way of knowing when individual employees at a company are transferred or terminated. Only the employer has this information.


Why Previous Solutions Haven't Worked

Some mail centers have tried correcting this situation by returning mail to marketers with a note indicating the employee has left the company. A few even hire temporary employees to proactively contact marketers and alert them to terminated employees, hoping they will update their mailing lists. Most marketers do. But they can update only their "house" mailing lists, which are the internal lists they maintain of people who previously purchased or otherwise inquired about their products or services. House lists typically represent a small fraction of the names marketers mail to each year.


Most marketers also rent lists from other marketers and list compilers, which they use to target new customers with direct mail. Marketers typically mail only a few pieces to each name on a rented list before moving on to other prospect lists. That's why you can't reduce the amount of misdirected advertising mail you receive by sending notes to the marketers using rented lists. By the time they receive your note, they're not even mailing to those names any more.


A few particularly proactive marketers also have tried solving the problem by asking mail centers to update their contacts. But most mail center staffs are stretched too thin to respond to these types of requests especially because it would require providing the same updated information to multiple marketers, which would consume more time and resources than sorting and discarding the misdirected mail.


Where Do We Go From Here?

The only way to effectively meet the challenge is to bring together the two sides in a cooperative effort to change the way marketers target people at work. After all, marketers desperately want to know who, within your company, they should remove from their lists. And nobody doubts you'd like to eliminate the excess advertising mail you receive.


Why not create a nationwide, cooperative database of outdated and bad business contacts? Businesses only need to contribute names and business mailing addresses for terminated employees to the database, and marketers use that information to identify names to be removed from their mailing lists. Instead of notifying multiple marketers, businesses simply report it once and are able to reach all marketers, including those renting lists to other marketers. And marketers compare their lists to a single file detailing outdated contacts at thousands of companies. Better yet, they do this electronically in a single pass instead of fielding hundreds of manual notifications from businesses.


The EcoLogical Mail Coalition

By creating the EcoLogical Mail Coalition, businesses and marketers have been brought together to create the only national, cooperative database of verified, outdated business contacts. Already, the database includes contacts from nearly 6,000 companies, including more than 200 of the Fortune 1000, plus schools, hospitals, municipalities and other public sector organizations.


Why should your organization join the coalition? By joining, you'll finally solve the problem of incoming advertising mail addressed to your former employees. Simply add your former employees to the database, and marketers will compare their mailing lists to it so they can identify and eliminate outdated contacts before they mail.


The coalition delivers cost savings to your organization as well by eliminating the work associated with receiving, sorting and discarding all of that misdirected advertising mail. And you'll be making a tremendous positive impact on the environment by conserving trees (as much as one tree per every four former employees) and reducing waste.


Perhaps the best part is that coalition benefits are free to you. For a limited time, organizations  who join receive free Charter Membership. Charter Members will never pay a fee to participate. Visit the coalition's Web site where you can learn more.


By participating and contributing your former employee information, you'll encourage more businesses, universities and other organizations to join, and that in turn will encourage more marketers to participate. As more marketers participate, you'll see even more dramatic reductions in advertising mail.


The EcoLogical Mail Coalition represents a smarter approach to business mail, creating less waste and greater efficiency for everyone. And that's good for businesses, marketers and the environment.


Chuck Moxley is founder and president of the EcoLogical Mail Coalition. To learn more about joining the coalition for free, visit www.ecologicalmail.org/free or call 800-620-3975.