In my last few posts, I’ve written about year-end tasks – making sure your donors feel appreciated and doing some first-level analysis of your giving data to better understand the trends within your own organization. Here’s another bit of January housework: Cleaning.

Phyllis Diller was famously quoted as hating housework “You make the beds, you do the dishes, and six months later you have to start all over again.” Cleaning up your data feels like that sometimes. But for all the tedium, the results are worthwhile. Here’s a great idea for cleaning up bad addresses and clearing out duplicates in your database.

Start with a piece of cardstock twice the size of a normal postcard so when you fold it in half, it folds down to postcard size. Print a postcard address block and an appeal to help clean up the database on one side (so when the card is folded over, they appear on opposite sides of the card). On the other side, print your return address and your mission statement (so when the card is folded over the other way, these two items are opposite each other).

When you or your mailing house mails the cards, glue down peel-off mailing labels in the address block (like the IRS does on the tax form they mail to you). In the text, invite your member/recipients to make any corrections directly onto the labels, and include a spot to collect email addresses. Then tape the cards shut. Mail the cards first class, so the ones mailed to bad addresses will be returned. (The post office does not return bulk rate mail sent to bad addresses.)

Recipients can make any needed corrections, peel off labels from duplicate cards and combine them onto one, and fold it over the other way so that your return address shows. Then they tape it shut again, and mail it back.

If you have a Business Reply Mail (BRM) account, use it – doing so makes it that much more likely they will be returned.

Only one “don’t” here – Don’t use this mailing to do anything else. It shouldn’t be part of an appeal mailing, for example. Doing so complicates the layout and distracts from the primary message.

Sending first class postcards to your entire mailing list is expensive, and including the BRM return will add to the cost. But mailing newsletters that are never delivered is expensive, too. And your members will appreciate the effort even if their address is perfect. You shouldn’t have to do this more than every three- to five years.

The ones that come back will fall generally into three groups. Those with indicated corrections are straightforward. Others may come back with corrections from the post office – again, pretty straightforward.

Still others may have forwarding orders expired, or “unknown at this address” messages. For these, take the time to look them up, or have Board members or volunteers look at them before you mark them “BADADDRESS”. Sometimes it’s easy to find them again.

If all else fails, your database should be capable of handling the BADADDRESS flag. Next time you generate a newsletter list, make sure you don’t pull the BADADDRESS labels.

As always, your comments, responses, and questions are welcomed here and by email at



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