THINKPIECE: Donor records pointless if not kept up to date

Richard Roche, head of business development at the Royal Mail

It's becoming increasingly important for any organisation to keep a record of its customers - names and addresses are now being recognised as one of the most valuable assets a business can have. Charities in particular benefit from recording and utilising this data, as the sector sent out almost 400 million items of direct mail in 2002.

However, the latest figures from Royal Mail indicate that 10 per cent of all addresses held by businesses and charities are inaccurate. This data decay has massive implications for the effectiveness of any direct marketing activity, and should prompt charities in particular to look at their data practices and how they can improve them.

For a charity, the problem presents itself when donors change address.

Most will inform family, friends, banks and utility providers when they move house, but generally won't remember to advise a charity to which they give regularly.

The Royal Mail offers a free online service for consumers. By logging onto the website www.royalmail.com/changeofaddress, movers can notify the UK's top companies and charities about their new location. Charities in turn can be notified about this information. They should not be reliant on donors to always provide this information, however, and must look to the services on offer that let them screen databases to remove people who have moved from an address, and to contact people who have moved in.

The result of using these services means charities can keep their data up-to-date, and can keep up a consistent level of communication with donors.

Not only that, their data can be better maintained to ensure that any spend on direct marketing is effectively reaching the people it is intended to.

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