Regulation demands more address purge

November 14, 2008
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GrandValleyStateUniversity sends 1.5 million pieces in mass mailings each year.

So when the U.S. Postal Service announced that customers who mail large quantities at one time for a discount would be required to run their mailing lists through the National Change of Address Database every 95 days, Steven Leeser got busy to meet the Nov. 23 deadline.

Leeser, facilities operations supervisor for the 23,892-student university, said GVSU uses more than 100 mailing lists scattered across its campuses in Allendale and Grand Rapids

"The post office has thrown a lot of changes at us over the years," Leeser said, the last one being an overhaul of the pricing structure in 2007. "That was small compared to what they are asking us to do right now."

USPS expected about 10 billion pieces of undeliverable mail, or nearly 5 percent, would be sent in 2008. The cost is nearly $2 billion.

The new Move Update regulation affects standard mail, including letters, flats, parcels and "not flat-machinables," as well as automation rate and pre-sort rate first-class mail. As of Nov. 23, those mailings must use addresses that have undergone Move Update processing within the previous 95 days. That's up from the previous rule of 185 days.

Brian Quist, president of Kent Communications Inc., one of the area's largest mass mailing companies, said he has been conducting one-hour seminars to help customers through the change, which doubles the number of times lists must be purged of incorrect addresses and old addresses updated.

"Customer education is definitely the biggest challenge in this," Quist said. His customers include advertisers as well as nonprofits and municipalities. KCI handles mailings from 200 to 2 million pieces, he said, but most are 10,000 or fewer.

"Our second-biggest challenge is making sure customers are in compliance," he added. "We don't have control of their mailing list; they control it. They're the ones who need to keep it up-to-date, even though we're the ones certifying" to the post office that addresses have been updated.

"It's going to make our services more valuable," Quist added. "We can help customers comply with update requirements fairly easily. If you're doing a mailing on your own or are a smaller company, you'll have a more difficult time meeting the requirements."

Kimberly, sales manager at Western American Mailers Inc. in Grand Rapids, said USPS has authorized more vendors for the NCOA database, which has provided easier access for mailing companies, decreased the time it takes to run the check-ups, and lowered the cost for customers.

"It's a good thing for clients and customers," she said. "If you are mailing out to a mailing list that's got bad addresses, you're wasting printing and postage and they're not going to get delivered. It's a good thing for customers to clean up their database … and know the clients are actually getting the mail."

Mark Petz, development and marketing director at the Humane Society of Kent County, said the nonprofit animal welfare organization relies heavily on direct mail for fundraising, especially this time of year. Petz said KCI and direct mail consultant Alpha Dog handle move updates to the organization's mailing list.

But the HSKC must take those updates and input each individually into its Donor Perfect database of 20,000 total records, 8,000 of them active donors, he said.

"We have to rely on volunteers because staff doesn't have time," Petz said.

While GVSU uses KCI for some mailings, "we send out a lot of mail directly through the university as well. That's why we went in house on this," Leeser said.

GVSU paid $4,000 for the software, Leeser said, and several employees in his department and other high-use departments have trained on it. Most of the standard mail comes from the departments of admissions, financial aid, housing, news and information services, development and athletics, he said. In addition, GVSU maintains a database of 1 million-plus names and addresses for current and former students, faculty and staff members.

"So my challenge is to update, not only the main database four times a year as required now, (but also) each of the departments have their own lists of names and addresses they maintain," Leeser said. "For the nursing department the other day, we checked 15 databases for that one department."

He said more accurate addressing may save GVSU money by cutting down on charges for returned mail.

Quist said the penalty for failing to comply is the loss of the discount rate, which can be as low as eight to nine cents per piece for a nonprofit, a big savings over the 42-cent cost of a stamp.

While the new requirement is expected to slightly increase costs for customers, Quist said the benefits outweigh the costs.

"Mailings that are going to the right people are more effective," he said. "It's something customers probably should have been more attentive to all along."

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