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Timing is everything: expedited mail delivers response. (Direct Mail).

In the pantheon of postal system jokes resides the tale of two postal workers who had just completed their routes for the day. As they were leaving the office one of the workers abruptly stopped, turned and stomped his boot on the ground.

"Why did you have to go and do that?" asked his confused co-worker.

"'Cause that darn snail's been tagging along all day!"

The rapid response that emails provide has given birth to the perception that traditional paper mailings are the equivalent of a crawl. But through the use of expedited mail some nonprofits are proving that the term 'snail mail' may be a bit of a misnomer.

The primary service that an expedited communications company provides is intensive data processing work and that requires extensive computer horsepower and personnel, explained Rick Legeer, senior account executive for INTEGRAM, an expedited communications firm in Fairfax, Va.

"The whole idea is to get it highly targeted and highly personalized. Generic is not the name of the game," he said. "That combined with the speed is what gets the impact. The only thing that is limiting is if there is a need for an outside printing company. Say if someone wants a brochure printed up. That can take from three to six-plus days and slows things down a bit."

Whether it's an outsourced vendor or basic priority mail done in-house, a rapid production and delivery schedule does not necessarily mean that the product is simplistic, Legeer said. Databases of names and addresses and related information are used to produce packages that can include membership categories, donation amounts and references to past activities.

"Nonprofit fundraising types, disaster relief, events that come up all of a sudden where yesterday the issue didn't exist, all have a need to get their information out quickly," Legeer said.

A little more than a year ago the renewal program at The Phillips Collection was stalling. The modern art museum located in Washington, D.C,. was attaining only a 50 percent renewal rate before it decided to make the switch to an expedited mailing program.

"Our renewal program was being done in-house with a small staff and it was, from what I understand, erratic at best," said Mark Mills, membership manager at the museum. "It was a huge time constraint on staff and wasn't always as professional as it could have been. Now we know that they're going out on time, and they look good, and the response rates have been very good."

The utilization of expedited mail has The Phillips Collection producing renewal rates at an average of between 70 and 80 percent. Mills also added that a traditional paper mailing caters more toward its members, a demographic that skews a bit older than the personal computer generation.

There is a younger component of people in their 20s to 40s but most of the people are an older demographic of 40s, 50s and 60s who are accustomed to a package rather than an email, Mills said.

The success of the expedited mail renewals has helped the organization hold its membership in the desired 10,000 to 11,000-member range. But even with the relatively small numbers compared to other art institutions, the renewal process can still become a chore.

"People get four renewals from us, the first one coming two months outs Mills explained. "Obviously, if you have a lot of these renewals going out at a time somebody would have to mailmerge, print and stuff in-house and try and keep all that straight. Before (expedited mail) they were just generic 'Dear Friend' letters and now they're able to be personalized. So I think it's made it a more sophisticated renewal program with a quicker and more efficient time management."

The quicker the better, according to Patricia Clarke, director of development and communications at the Shalem Institute in Bethesda, Md. The more rapidly that the mailings are completed, the more time Clarke has to focus her attention on other areas such as major donors and the procurement of large gifts for the ecumenical nonprofit.

It's not so much a technology issue but rather focusing on how to best utilize your resources, Clarke said in explaining the benefits reaped by the institute after adopting an expedited mail program.

After emailing out the letter that she approved, Clarke receives a proof, to which she makes adjustments. This back-and-forth emailing continues until she signs off on a final version. The email communications are much less involved than Shalem's previous production process.

"We had volunteers who did three-way sorting, where you have your pledge card with the person's name on it, your salutation on a letter and your outside envelope," Clarke said. "It's a three-way match and you have to make sure that the volunteers get each piece of paper that matches up. We started to go with the expedited mail for that kind of stuff because our volunteers were going crazy."

Volunteer sanity coupled with the quickened arrival of responses -- depending on the destination, as little as three days after the addressee received the letter -- has moved Shalem to broaden its expedited mailings. The organization now uses it to send out invitations to events that require an RSVP It's used for anything that needs to look personal but has to go out to a large group of people, Clarke explained.

As with all mailing processes there can be glitches. To head-off potential mistakes Clarke placed a specific importance in getting the proofs back in a timely manner.

Sometimes if the system is rolling along at a breakneck pace an organization might receive a copy of the package that is being planned. After the mail goes out she is supposed to receive some samples of the actual mailing but in one situation Shalem found that there was an insert in the letter that was matched with the incorrect person, Clarke said. The name and address were right on target, but the amount that they gave last year was inaccurate and that proved the importance of getting the samples before the mailing went out, she added.
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Article Details
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Author:Causer, Craig
Publication:The Non-profit Times
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 15, 2002
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