Who Is Educating the Educators?

A sense of nostalgia envelopes me at this time of year. I think back to my college days, burning the midnight oil as I prepared for final exams, worrying about summer employment, critically evaluating the professors, Jesuits and Lay alike, and already wondering about next year.

In a more global fashion, it really is appropriate to think of our alma maters as many grapple with shrinking budgets while holding onto a fierce resolve to maintain high academic standards. So what can we do to help their plight?

As direct marketing and mail professionals, we can contact our alma maters and give them a crash course on direct mail economics. We have the ability to help them avoid becoming victims of postage discount reimbursements caused by ignorance of an existing postal regulation that is now being enforced nationally.

This is an important message to deliver. Thousands of dollars in postage discounts received upfront for First-Class mailings are in jeopardy if the required mail preparations weren’t taken to warrant receipt of the discounts. Yes, this pertains to the U.S. Postal Service’s enforcement of its Move Update regulation.

Please don’t think this exhortation to help is a gratuitous jester to be shrugged off as a writer’s whim. The money at risk, plus the amounts to be saved, could easily be equal to a number of full scholarships. Further, simply delivering this alert notice can be a real challenge.

Who should be told? Who will listen and have authority to take appropriate action? Should you contact the purchasing department, the alumni association, a fundraising center, central administration or the mailing department? A clear answer can be elusive.

This question was raised with a group of university representatives attending this spring’s National Association of Educational Buyers annual expo. Most of those participating in an informal roundtable session were involved in purchasing and were familiar with their administrative structure. An initial consensus was reached that the challenge would often be difficult, and in many cases it was thought the matter would need to be heard by multiple departments.

Upon further discussion, though, these professional buyers concluded that your initial contact should be directed to the school’s head of finance (CFO, comptroller, treasurer) since direct mail is a line-item budget expense. This makes sense since the first two benefits of adhering to the regulatory requirements are financial:

o Securing front-end postage discounts.

o Reducing overall direct mail expense (through use of USPS services that ensure compliance and improve mail quality).

The exploratory efforts will be worth your while because the risk/reward message will interest the keeper of the purse and prove to benefit the institution.

The risk/reward message is simple to convey and to understand. First, if the school is audited by the postal service and can’t demonstrate that it earned the postage discounts received for First-Class mailings, they are forfeited and must be returned, not just for the mailing in question but possibly for all mailings over an entire year.

Second, complying with the USPS regulation virtually guarantees that the school’s front-end mailing costs will be lowered. The USPS name and address update services not only provide change of address information but also can identify undeliverable addresses in the file. The undeliverable category includes findings such as households that have moved and left no forwarding address and records lacking a primary address (i.e., simply Main Street versus an actual delivery address).

How serious could this be to a college or university? Quite serious.

A clean, accurate file is an oxymoron. Error begins at the point of data entry, and mobility churn exacerbates the problem of maintaining correct files. The Census Bureau confirms that we are a mobile society, with 17 percent of households moving annually. That exceeds 1 percent adjustments monthly if averaged across the year.

Also, the USPS has a national database of all its 140 million delivery points. This is another excellent (and inexpensive) tool to verify accuracy of addresses and eliminate non-verified addresses before mailing.

Educating your educators could be a donation far beyond what you normally give. To borrow an appropriate phrase, this would be a gift that keeps on giving.

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