Keeping Your House File Healthy

At a recent Center for Non-Profit Success Fundraising Summit, I asked session attendees, “When do you stop mailing a name on your list?”

“Never,” was an immediate reply from someone on the right of the room.

“When they die,” volunteered a lady two tables over.

“When we get mail returned,” offered yet another attendee.

What ... ???

I expected to hear, “When we haven’t had a response for 24 months" … or 30 months … or even 48 months.

No organization is in business simply to build a mail list. Especially in today’s economy. Or in light of anticipated postage increases.

It’s imperative to consider a house file a dynamic, “living” entity. Not that a name has to be deleted. But you certainly don’t have to mail (or email) to the whole file.

In fact, you shouldn’t. If you’re not also collecting–and maintaining–information about your customers and donors that lets you talk to different segments differently, you’re limiting the effectiveness of your communication program.

Consider recency, for example.

One client’s prior practice was to drop a donor into the mail stream and let them swim along for the next 60 months.

Closer analysis showed two out of every three donors lapsed the next year ... never to be heard from again.

Does it make sense to mail those individuals?

It could. The organization tested a special appeal to donors lapsed 24-36 months. Turns out they got more donations from 2006 first time donors in 2008 than they had received in 2007.

It wasn’t just that they made contact and asked; that had been happening for the past two years. But they asked differently … and that made all the difference!