This article originally appeared in the July/August, 2018 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.

    Nonprofits mail about 15 billion pieces of First Class Mail, Marketing Mail, and Periodicals each year, or one-tenth of all USPS mail volume. It is imperative nonprofits have a voice in the future of the mailing industry. Our best practice requirements for direct, high-response mail creation uses the same mail makeup structure as much larger commercial mailers. Marginalization of nonprofit mail owners could bring changes to mailing requirement thresholds and even our preferred pricing. We can best prepare our efficiency with the following improvements to increase profitability.

    Important Steps in the Mail Preparation Process

    Once the nonprofit entity chooses all the components of the mailing campaign, whether it includes a letter, brochure, infographic, card, or other combination of creative pieces to market the goal of the campaign and solicit contributions from the membership, it is on to pre-mailing process. We recommend all nonprofits know the nonprofit authorization (NPA) number assigned to their organization from the USPS Pricing and Classification Service Center. Along with the NPA, mailer ID (MID) and customer registration ID (CRID) are equally important since all By/For relationships in the Mailer Scorecard must be identified in a nonprofit mailing. Keep records of the relationship and provide these numbers to your mailing agent(s). This will avoid multiple IDs assigned to your organization and delays in the mail preparation process.

    Addresses are an important detail of the mailing campaign. Not only is it expensive to mail an invalid address, the opportunity to reach the membership for contributions is lost. Address quality census measurement and assessments are here. Any pieces exceeding the one-to-two percent tolerance level as measured on the Mailer Scorecard will be assessed $.08 per piece. Typically, a vendor will provide Coding Accuracy Support System (CASS) and National Change of Address (NCOA) results just before the campaign is produced. At this point, it is too late to clean up address records identified as an issue. Work with the mail service provider to have an opportunity to review and correct addresses on your database before production begins. The campaign reach will be improved, postage costs controlled, and the amount of return pieces reduced. Win-win!

    And thinking about those pesky returns, what endorsement will you choose for the mail piece and Service Type ID (STID) embedded in the barcode? If unsure, the mail service provider can assist in this selection or more information is available at: In the Marketing Mail category, many clients default to Return Service Requested as the preferred endorsement under the assumption this is the least expensive option. It is correct the per piece charge for each undeliverable-as-addressed piece is less, but there is a likelihood of receiving a higher volume of returns. This is due to a key difference between Return Service Requested and Address Service Requested. Return Service Requested instructs the USPS to return all change-of-address and undeliverable pieces. Address Service Requested will forward (if possible) the pieces with a change-of-address and only return undeliverable-as-addressed. Although not explored in this article, No Endorsement and Change Service Requested are other options for processing returns. Again, as nonprofits, the campaign is meant to reach members and receive contributions. It is important to choose an endorsement which will provide notice of address failures and allow the nonprofit to take action to correct the membership census database before the next mailing. One more tip to simplify the life of a nonprofit: set-up an advanced deposit account at the local post office. There is no fee to set up this account. How does it work? Simply deposit a pre-determined amount, the cost of returned mail will be deducted, and returns are delivered with a statement of the remaining account balance. Once the balance gets depleted, simply deposit more funds. Quick and simple!

    At the time of mail preparation, will the campaign be entered to the USPS network at origin preparation or dropped directly to the processing facility? What is the difference, you may wonder? Cost and time. For Marketing mail entered in Indianapolis, Indiana destined for Boise, Idaho, the USPS service standard is seven to eight days. While this standard seems somewhat reasonable, there is less control of the in-home date than entering the pallet directly to the Boise processing plant. If entering directly to a Sectional Center Facility (SCF), a service standard of one to three days applies. This is a much better control to target a specific in-home date, staff call centers, and plan omni-channel follow-up marketing messages.

    Important Step for the Post-Mailing Process

    Once the mailing is in the USPS network, are you tracking the processing of pallets, trays or sacks, bundles, and pieces? Did you know you can also track the pieces mailed to you from the membership? USPS Informed Visibility (IV) makes this possible. IV offers an abundance of flexibility with regards to the file formats, delivery methods, and frequency of data feeds. More information on this service is available at: This program provides one more way for the nonprofit to maximize fulfillment, staffing, inventory, and be ready to accept the contributions. More streamlined processes allow for less overhead and a greater share of the submissions to support the nonprofit cause. Not enough resources to track the mail? No worries. There are many reputable mail tracking companies ready to help you.

    Other Tips and Considerations

    Who are the top contributors? Identify these top high-value candidates and use a first-class stamp to deliver the campaign. This is an effective way to personalize the piece and demonstrate a sense of urgency. Also, the early delivery and response from these known recipients can be the pace-setters of the campaign. This baseline can help determine the kind of omni-channel follow-up needed to increase response and contributions. Furthermore, some American households are familiar with permit indicia and often assume the piece is a non-personalized, non-important message or “junk mail” (we know, we know, we do not like the “j” word either). Why not use a pre-canceled stamp on the campaign? While the mail piece is still prepared at nonprofit presorted rates, the finished mail piece delivers a more personalized look, increasing the engagement of the recipient. Another possibility is to include multi-denominational stamps on a single piece. This can really grab the attention of the recipient at the mailbox. Why not try it and confirm this tactic to increase your response rate?

    Are you currently providing a Business Reply envelope for response? Some nonprofits use the Courtesy Reply version instead, where the sender applies a First-Class stamp, and they see little to no change in response. The postage cost for a basic one-ounce letter Business Reply piece totals $1.31 each on top of the $225 annual permit fee. This additional cost adds up fast and reduces the final donation results of the campaign. Test this method on the next campaign. Select a small sample from the mailing list and include a Courtesy Reply envelope instead. If the response variance is tolerable, try it on larger segments up to the total mailing volume. Testing is the only way to be sure of the impact.

    The final tip for nonprofits is to try an Informed Delivery campaign along with the traditional mailing. This is a great way to include multiple touchpoints to the recipient using a single mail piece. The Informed Delivery campaign can provide a colored replacement for the grey-scale image of the mail piece or a ride-along image to direct the recipient to a specific website link or both. The key to this strategy is to include a clear call to action such as “Click Here to Contribute Now.” As presented at the February 2018 Mailers Technical Committee (MTAC) meeting, the top performing click-to-open campaign in January 2018 was a nonprofit. This campaign achieved a nine percent click-to-open rate. This is a promising figure to entice nonprofits to explore this free feature. For more information on how to get started, refer to the interactive campaign guide at: We hope to receive your interactive campaign in our Informed Delivery emails!

    Your Voice with the Nonprofit Mailing Community

    You can leverage our voice in the industry. There is a nonprofit association, the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, working on our behalf. Their mission is to “…work to preserve affordable, reliable U.S. Mail so that our nation’s nonprofit sector can continue to fulfill vital missions. We inform and educate policy-makers, regulators, legislators, and nonprofits on anything that affects nonprofit’s use of the U.S. Postal Service.” For more information on how to get involved, go to or contact Executive Director, Stephen Kearney, at

    Transform the Audience Engagement

    The direct benefit of nonprofit mail is to uplift, educate, and provide for like-minded community values. Pressure against nonprofit mail is not new or more aggressive than compared to the past. What seems to have changed is the growing indifference of the audience and the competition of other multimedia lanes. Design and preparation efficiency of the mail piece is the best practice to reach and engage the audience.

    Trista Niswander is the Postal Manager for Our Sunday Visitor. Steve Smith is President, Base 60 Consulting.