our friends at the post office

I learned a new word and want to share it with you. The word is: “exigent.” Maybe you already knew exigent. I couldn’t use it in a sentence without being tempted to go for a cheap laugh with: “Everyone knows that dinosaurs have been exigent forever.” While not very funny, it does allow me to introduce “dinosaurs” and “extinction” which will come up later.

How did I learn this new word?

I’m finally catching up with my mail. And in the July 12 issue of the DMNews (The Authority for Direct Marketers) the headline reads: “Rate increases outrage mailers.” The first paragraph of the article says something about the US Postal Service’s proposed “exigent price increases.” The headline had me worried briefly, but then I realized I didn’t buy or mail “exigents” so I figured I didn’t have anything to worry about.

I kept reading. Uh oh. Maybe this is something to worry about after all. Turns out that the USPS has filed a request with the Postal Regulatory Commission to increase rates 5.6%. About 5% of that increase is an “exigent” price increase.

If you haven’t already looked it up, “exigent,” according to Dictionary.com means:

1. Requiring immediate action or remedy. See Synonyms: urgent.
2. Requiring much effort or expense; demanding.

(I resisted adding my editorial comments such as: “See Synonyms for outrageous.”)

This postage rate increase is labeled “exigent” because it “exceeds a statutorily imposed price cap established under the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.” Nice. It seems that the difficult economic times have hit the post office hard enough that they are asking for a postage rate increase that exceeds what their regulations allow. But luckily, it’s the Post Office and they can just ask for more money.

The article goes on to note that many nonprofits rely heavily on mail to raise funds. Yep. Which makes this a problem requiring exigent action on your part. The good news is that the governing authorities have 90 days to issue a decision. January 2, 2011 is the soonest this rate increase can go into effect.

You probably can’t do without direct mail completely if you are a nonprofit or charity that’s been around for a while. You’ve probably built your mass fundraising around mail. Most orgs have.

But you have to take exigent action now!

I’ve written about how direct mail is dead, but that the only unknown is the timeline. You can read my previous posts (okay, minor rants) mail is dead and direct mail: dead and alive.

Understand, I’m not against direct mail. We recommend it for clients and deliver strategies that make direct mail a very efficient fundraising machine. But many npos do not have good direct mail strategies. They go with the “mail everyone all the time” strategy which certainly isn’t ideal and is actually a nightmare as postal rates rise.

Unfortunately, some NPOs work with consultants and ad agencies that have business models based in mailing more to make more money…that’s more money for the agency not the NPO. Any time fees are based in how many pieces of mail your agency sends for you, you need to carefully consider if they have any incentive to mail fewer pieces. (I’ve already blogged on this problem in our 10 Questions to Ask Your Agency Series.)

So here are your 4 things you should do:

1. Get out your budget and figure out what a 5% postage increase will mean to your expenses.
2. Be sure you’re in a situation where your advisers have incentive to mail as few direct mail pieces as possible.
3. Develop a strategy to mail less to get more. Once you understand the principles, you really can mail less and receive more income. You can even check out my slides from a presentation on the subject.
4. Be sure you have strategies in place to expand all of the other channels available to you for fundraising. No fooling around. You have to get busy on this.

You can’t control the Post Office. They’re dinosaurs. And they’re headed for extinction–the timeline is the only question (Of course, miracles happen and they might actually reinvent themselves and operate in a new world like the rest of us, but I wouldn’t bet on it.)

But you can do something rather than just letting this rate increase hit you square in the budget. The one thing you should do like the post office: take exigent action now!

So, how about you? Did you know the word “exigent”? What is your organization doing to fight the rising tide of postage increases? I love knowing what you think.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: Arenamontanus)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

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