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Making a Mailing List

cmdi | Mon Jan 23, 2023

Helping clients create fundraising mailings is one of CMDI’s most important services. Here’s a look at how we actually produce them!

First steps:

1. A dataset: Before we can create a mailing list, the client must have a donor dataset. If the candidate has run for office before, the campaign should have a list of the donors who have given in the past. The dataset should include the donor names, addresses and giving histories. The number and dollar amounts of donors’ gifts are important information!

First-time candidates might not have their own data, but they usually start building their own lists with the help of their county or state party and by collecting emails and addresses at campaign events. They can also rent a “prospecting list,” as explained below.

2. Clean your data: CMDI provides data hygiene services, which help clients make sure that their donor databases are as clean as possible. We run a “dupe check” to identify any duplicate donor records. Donors who appear more than once in the database will receive more than one copy of every mailing. Mailing duplicates is not only frustrating for donors, but also adds unnecessary expenses for campaigns. We also check our clients’ datasets against the National Change of Address (NCOA) database. If a campaign last used its fundraising list in an election 2-6 years ago, some donors have probably moved since the list was last updated.

3. Rent lists to grow: Some first-time candidates, and other clients who want to expand their fundraising efforts, rent “prospecting lists” from a list broker. Their goal is to reach out to supporters who haven’t donated yet. These lists are essentially other candidates’ donor databases developed during previous campaigns. For example, a senate campaign could rent a donor list that belonged to a candidate for governor in the same state. If a client decides to build a mailing list from more than one dataset, we run a “merge purge.” Most likely, there will be overlap between the lists, since donors often give to more than one campaign. Merge-purges find and delete duplicate records.

Making a mailing list:

1. Segment Data: To create a mailing list from a donor dataset, we first “segment,” or divide, the dataset into different categories of donors. We assign a “mail code” to each category. We code donors who made one contribution in the last election cycle separately from donors who made more than one contribution. We also segment the dataset by contribution amounts – such as 0-$50, $50-$200, and more than $200.

2. Flag records: We flag the records of donors who the campaign might not want to receive mail. Donors marked as deceased or donors who have asked to be removed from the mailing list are usually flagged. Sometimes, we flag other types of records. Maybe a candidate doesn’t want to mail anyone who lives in his or her opponent’s zip code. Clients can choose to “suppress” flagged donor records so that they aren’t included in a mailing list.

3. Target donors & voters: Next, we discuss with the client exactly which donors the campaign wants to reach. Clients usually don’t want to mail every donor in the database at once. When the client chooses which types of donors to include in a mailing, we put together a list of mail codes that represent those “segments” of the dataset. Our clients also choose which “suppressions” they want to exclude from the mailing list.

4. Experience counts: To build a mailing list, we “pull” the donor records from the mail codes our client chose include and “suppress” the records with the flags that the client chose exclude. It is very important that this step of the process be carried out by an experienced programmer. Otherwise, it would be easy to accidentally create duplicate records. For example, a donor might be included in one mail code for contributing twice during the last election and a different mail code for contributing once during this election cycle. We prioritize the mail codes to make sure that each donor record is only pulled once.

The cycle continues:

CMDI’s services don’t end once a fundraising mailing has been sent. We offer caging and data entry services to process the contributions that campaigns receive in response. We update the client’s dataset so that it includes the latest donations. If a client is renting a prospecting list, we label the return forms so that we can easily tell which donors are already included in the client’s database and which need to be added. It's important to keep the client’s fundraising dataset up-to-date and ready for the next mailing!