Return to Sender: When Will Physical Addresses Go Away?

While recently attending the Northeast Advancement Services Conference hosted at my alma mater Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), I asked the audience a question:
Do we see a time in the future when tracking physical addresses goes away?

Sneers, eye-rolling, and a mild case of whiplash in the audience ensued. But I’ve since reflected more on the conversation and found this study quoting “Fund-Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process.”

Source: Supporting Advancement

There are several arguments for maintaining a robust database of physical addresses. We, too, at EverTrue are believers that an address can be a great capacity indicator. But let’s take a look at the most common argument:

Physical mailings are the most effective way to raise money.

My rebuttal to this is simple: it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we expect mailings to be our most productive way to raise monies, and we therefore invest a disproportionate amount of time, energy, and funds into these mailings, we’ll see results.

But can we prove that mailings are the most effective way to raise money? Who among us is tracking the ROI of physical addresses? We pay good money to keep our data clean; we pay vendors and we pay ourselves tens—if not hundreds—of thousands of dollars every year. We spend even more on printing and postage. What are the average dollars in and dollars out?

What can we learn from sales and marketing innovators who obsess about ROI ?

What I’m willing to concede—for right now: mailings can be the most effective way to reach some constituents. Keywords: for right now, can be, some.

It’s the “some” that matters most—how do we think about segmenting our donor base? What’s the physical address ROI for young alumni versus the rest?

What if…

  • We deleted addresses from our CRM tomorrow? Doom or an advancement revolution?
  • We took the $100,000 (or insert your number here) that we spend on mailings for young alumni and ran a Facebook campaign instead?
  • We only mailed existing donors for renewals? The study illustrated in the graphic above shows that donor acquisition via direct mail actually loses money!

Do you see a world when physical addresses go away? Tell us in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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