The U.S. is a very transient country. With over 11% of all Americans moving in a typical year, keeping your direct mail list up-to-date is an ongoing challenge.

If you’re regularly mailing solicitations, newsletters or other pieces to a large list, you are undoubtedly already running your list through the USPS’s National Change of Address (NCOA) database. Not only does this cut down drastically on the number of undeliverable pieces you’re sending, but having processed your list through NCOA within 95 days of a mailing qualifies it for reduced postage rates.

An unfortunate fact, however, is that as many as 40% of Americans who move don’t bother to file a change of address notice with the USPS. They may have forgotten or they might have consciously decided not to do so in order to avoid creditors or cut down on unsolicited mail. But even those who didn’t change their address with the post office probably did notify their cell phone company, cherished magazines, and other companies they didn’t want to lose touch with.

A consortium of these organizations banded together in 1995 to share this information with each other and make the data available to services like MMI Direct. It is definitely worth testing whether running your list through the Proprietary Change of Address (PCOA) database pays out in terms of higher returns on your mailings. Fortunately, while PCOA processing used to cost several times more than NCOA, PCOA’s cost has dropped substantially in recent years.

Assuming the benefits of PCOA do pay out for your list, you then need to determine how frequently you should use it. Relocation rate is heavily dependent upon age — Americans in their twenties move nine times more frequently than those in their seventies, for example. It is also heavily dependent upon income, with almost twice as many Americans earning less than $5,000 a year moving in 2012 (13%) compared to those with an annual income of over $100,000 (7%). So it may make sense for managers of lists consisting primarily of older, wealthier donors to run their full house list through PCOA far less frequently than a company whose target audience is young gamers.

You should also consider if there are specific segments of your list that should be updated more frequently than the list as a whole. For example, you may want to run lapsed contributors through PCOA every six months to help you reconnect with individuals who’ve previously shown their willingness to support you.

Finally, an important question to consider is whether to update address data for active donors in your database if PCOA indicates they’ve moved. No process is error-free and, if someone has donated to you recently, you may have more accurate data than that in a compiled database.

Figuring out how to optimize your list is challenging. If we can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to call (410) 561-1500.


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