Nonprofit Direct Mail on Salesforce, Part 2: What Does a Standard Direct Mail Workflow Look Like?

By Dustin Pitts | December 1, 2016 | Fundraising, Marketing Communications, Nonprofit, User Tips and Tricks

Hey there! My name is Dustin. I am a Solution Engineer for Salesforce.org based in Charleston, SC. Welcome to my blog series about direct mail!

In Part 1, I gave an overview of direct mail and a glossary of common terms.

What is a standard direct mail workflow?

Now that you have the basics of direct mail down, let’s talk about workflows. Many nonprofits have been doing direct mail for years or even decades, so we’ve all developed our own particular processes. Every organization is unique and has different direct mail needs and goals. Hence why I included the word “standard” in the title of this post ― because we will be talking about some of the most common workflows that I have seen across the industry: house and acquisitions. Think of this as a best practice guide that you can mold to fit your organization.

I’ll keep this high-level here, and then we will go into detail on the specific steps throughout this blog series. Let’s start off with a house mailing process.

House Mailing

If you remember from my listing of key terms, when I say “house mailing” I mean that we are only mailing to constituents we already know. These could be past donors, event participants, members, or even volunteers. We are not mailing to any names from a purchased list in this section. Here is what that process may look like for house mailings

Standard Workflow for House Mailing
House Mailing Workflow

Here’s what happens in each of these steps, in a nutshell:

1. Plan marketing effort dates: This process is usually done at the beginning of the year. It is when you plan out the actual dates, counts, and budget for each of your marketing efforts for the year.

2. Determine segments: Determine which groups of individuals will receive your mail. For example, everyone in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida who has donated more than $25 in the past six months. The total segments per mailing can range from one to hundreds.

3. Build segments: Query your database to identify which individuals belong to which of the segments you’ve identified.

4. Export names and addresses: Export the names and addresses of the individuals who will receive your mailing. This is usually in a CSV or text format. This file often includes separate columns for constituent ID, finder number, and source code.

5. Flag record as sent: Flag constituent records in your CRM to mark that they received a mailing. In Salesforce, this equates to adding a Contact to a Campaign.

6. Dedupe and NCOA: Deduplication is often done outside of your database by a mail shop (the person who sends the mail) or another third party vendor. This process ensures that you do not accidentally mail someone twice. NCOA stands for “National Change of Address.” NCOA validates the addresses you mailed to make sure the constituent has not moved to a new address.

7. Send mail: This is the process of actually sending the mail out. It is common that the mail is presorted by destination to ensure postal discounts (and for the sanity of the postal workers).

8. Cage gifts: The mail you receive in return is opened and the gifts are entered into your database. This could be done by in-house staff or by a third-party caging vendor. Vendors will often provide a CSV import file so that the gifts can be imported into your database.

The second step, Determine Segments, is a big one that can be done in many different ways. The simplest way is to build the segments directly in your CRM tool. In Salesforce, we use the Campaign object to build segments. You can add Contacts to Campaigns via Reports. Another approach is to do segmentation outside of your CRM, and then importing your Campaign members. More on that later in this series.

In the final step, Cage Gifts, it is very important that you flag incoming donations to identify which marketing effort those gifts resulted from. This will allow you to report on the performance of your marketing tactics. In Salesforce, this can be done by flagging the Donation (Opportunity) to the correct Campaign when it is caged. It is also a best practice to include a source code on the donation record when available. The source code allows for an even deeper level of reporting.

That’s a general overview of house mailing. Now let’s talk about acquisition.

Acquisition Mailing

First things first, not all nonprofits use direct mail for acquisition. It is best to consider your organization’s business needs before implementing a full acquisition program.

Acquisition differs from house mailing in that it includes rented or purchased names. These are lists of names that your organization has bought from a list vendor or from another nonprofit. Acquisition mailings can also include deep lapsed names. As a reminder, “deep lapsed” means names that currently exist in your database but have not been active in a very long time.

Standard Workflow for Acquisition Mailing
Acquisition Mailing Workflow

Here is a breakdown of the steps in an acquisition workflow:

1. Determine mailing counts: The count process for acquisition defines the number of names you are going to purchase and where you’re purchasing them from.

2. Purchase list: Once you know how many names you need, you actually go out and get those names. These names can be rented or purchased outright – I will go into this in much more detail in my upcoming acquisition post.

3. Run dedupe: This process ensures that you are not purchasing names that you already own. This step can be done by the acquisition list vendor, by a third party dedupe vendor, or by your staff.

4. Insert deep lapsed: After deduping purchased lists, you add in deep lapsed past donors to your acquisition mailing. Remember to flag these constituent records in your CRM as part of the mailing to save yourself from a reporting headache later.

5. Vendor provides finder file: A “finder file” is a list of names, addresses, source codes, and IDs of the individuals you have purchased or rented. This file is created by the acquisition vendor, who then provides it to the caging vendor or directly to the nonprofit as a CSV file. The finder file aids in gift processing.

6. Send out mailing: After all that, you’re now ready to send the mailing.

7. Cage gifts: The caging process for acquisition should in theory be the same as the house process. The beauty of having the finder file is that when you’re caging, you simply key in the finder number and use it to populate the name, address, and marketing info in your database.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of the workflows associated with direct mail. I will break down these steps in much more detail in upcoming posts. If you have any questions, click the button below and let’s get in touch!


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