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Nonprofit Direct Mail on Salesforce, Part 11: Merge / Purge, Address Validation, Postal Discounts

By Dustin Pitts February 14, 2018

Nonprofit Direct Mail MergeHello and welcome back to my blog series about direct mail! My name is Dustin. I’m a Solution Engineer for based in Charleston, SC. Today we are going to be diving into the weeds and focusing on some of the administrative details of direct mail. We will focus on the merge/purge process, address validation, and postal discounts.

Merge and Purge Details for Direct Mail in Nonprofit Fundraising

Let’s start off with merge/purge. So what is it exactly? Merge/purge is the process of bringing two data sets together and purging out the duplicates. Why is this important to direct mail? It normally becomes important when you are running acquisition programs. When you purchase an acquisition list, you want to make sure that you are not purchasing names that you already own (e.g. existing donors, volunteers, etc). The merge/purge process ensures that this does not happen.

How does it work? The process is usually done for nonprofits by an outsourced vendor such as Infogroup, Merkle, MMI, or Donorbase. As the nonprofit, you would provide your vendor two files. The first would be an export from your Salesforce database (“house file” in direct mail speak). It usually has IDs, names, addresses, and maybe an email address. Next, you will provide this vendor with the acquisition list you purchased. That acquisition file will also have names and addresses. The vendor will take both files and standardize the addresses. From there, they will then remove any names in the acquisition file that are also in your house file. This results in a final acquisition file that has all of your current constituents scrubbed out. This final file is then what you send to the mail shop for printing.

One thing to note: some organizations will include deep lapsed names in acquisition mailings. If this is the case for your nonprofit, be sure to work with your merge/purge vendor to ensure that they are included those deep lapsed names in the final file sent to the mail shop.

Address Validation in Direct Mail for Nonprofit Fundraising

Address validation is the process of ensuring that all of the addresses in your database meet a standard format. For example, you would have “Street” abbreviated as “St.” Most nonprofits in the United States will base this off of the United States Postal Service (USPS) format. There are multiple tools provided by the USPS which define these address formats, but navigating through these tools can be challenging. Most of the nonprofits I work with rely on third-party vendors to aggregate this data from the USPS and provide it in one simple tool.

The Salesforce AppExchange also has multiple vendors who offer this service. If you search for “Data Validation” in the AppExchange, you’ll find several who work very well with nonprofit data and that meet your needs.

Postal Discounts for Nonprofits

You are probably wondering why address validation is so important. Not only does it make your data look nice, it also qualifies you for postal discounts from the USPS. In order to qualify for a nonprofit bulk mail rate, the USPS will require you to have your addresses validated. This basically ensures that their automated systems can read and route your mailings easily.

The last thing that you should do to qualify for a USPS discount is running a National Change of Address (NCOA) service on your database. The NCOA database tracks all address changes or moves in the US. For example, if your constituent moves from Chicago to Miami you would get their new Miami address from the NCOA database. This database is managed by the USPS.

Similar to address validation, most nonprofits use a third-party service to run a NCOA process on their database. This third-party service will run your entire database of constituents against the NCOA database. If this service spots someone in your database who has moved, it will provide an updated address for that constituent. You can then use that new address to mail the constituent. These services can also be found on the Salesforce AppExchange by searching “National Change of Address” or “NCOA”. Traditionally, the cost of running this service is far lower than the amount of money saved in postal discounts, so it is a very good investment.


Thanks again for following along on my blog series. As a summary, here are some key take-homes messages from this post.

    1. You need to run a merge/purge on your data when are are acquiring new lists of prospective donors, i.e. acquisition programs. This is usually something you can outsource to a third-party vendor.
    2. Address validation not only makes your addresses look nice, but it helps you to qualify for postal discounts.
    3. It’s usually less expensive to do NCOA and address validation, than to miss out on the postal discount. Don’t miss the discount: do your validations!

As always, please reach out with any questions that you may have! For more on nonprofit fundraising, read this e-book.

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