Make Your Merge Purge Work for You

Merge Purge
Date Published
Corrine Doyle

Acquisition direct mail is one of your most expensive methods of building your donor pool. We have published many blogs on how to make the most of your acquisition efforts, including suppressing the right people, mailing the right quantity, and mailing in the right areas. If you are looking to get the most out of your acquisition direct mail, consider the following.

Accurately Removing the Right People Who Are Unlikely to Respond

Existing donors are not the only people who should be suppressed from your acquisition mail. A data-processing specialist provides you with access to some very important resources to make sure that you are mailing to people who are at a current physical address, who want to receive your message, and who are able to read your message.

  • NCOA (National Change of Address) provides standardized and current addresses on all input and suppression files. This helps accurate matches to take place between files, yielding a deliverable and duplicate-free mail file. NCOA also allows you to remove any donors who have moved outside of your service or mailing area and to update any new addresses in your database.
  • The National Do Not Mail and the prison lists should be used in addition to your standard suppression file. This keeps you from mailing to people who have expressed that they don’t want to be solicited to via the mail, as well as people who are in prisons and do not have the means to support your mission.
  • When was the last time you bumped your donor file against a database of deceased individuals to remove them from your file? If you haven’t given that much thought, chances are your rental list owners haven’t either! Deceased individuals do not make gifts.

Find Out About Your Current Donors

Data processors who specialize in merge-purge processing produce a standard set of reports that include some very insightful information about the results of your merge purge. One of these is the Matrix Report, which shows the interactions and relationships among all list combinations in the merge – both input and suppression files. You can see which list or lists your current donors have the most in common with. Even before you see the results of the campaign, you can predict them (to a degree). If the output of the merge purge is higher than your budget allows you to mail, and you need to cut one or more lists, you can do so by cutting the list that has the least in common with your current donors.

Get Your Priorities Straight

If you are including lapsed names and/or prospect names in your mailing, a higher priority should be assigned to those names so they survive over outside rental names. These people already have a relationship with your organization. They have either donated to you in the past or they have attended an event. If you are managing your merge purge in-house will not have the ability to assign different priorities to these lists. Not only can a data-processing provider assign these priorities; the provider can also maintain the vital information for those records (account IDs, email addresses, etc.) throughout the merge purge and into your final mail output. That data is then included on the reply devises at the mail house; when responses come you will have the account IDs to look up, and you will be able to update those records in your database instead of creating a new member record.

There is a myth among mailers that lists should be prioritized so that more names from your best lists mail. However, all the same names will get mailed out of a merge, regardless of priority. Prioritizing your best lists (or any non-house lists) only serves to retain all the best names (those appearing on multiple lists) on those higher priority lists, ensuring that they’ll continue to be your “best” lists. You are unfairly “creating” good lists with prioritization. Your overall results won’t change but your ability to accurately evaluate your campaign will. Another reason to not use priority on rental lists is that net name arrangements are invalidated if any priority is used in the merge.

While the merge purge is a very practical step in the mailing process, it can also become a key part of your mail strategy. Instead of simply suppressing current donors and removing duplicates in-house, enlisting a data processing provider who specializes in merge purge processing will provide the benefit of added resources, reports, and priorities to help you select the best possible prospective donors and therefore improve the results of your acquisition direct mail program.

About the Author:
Corrine Doyle
Director of Production Services, Agency Services

Years in the industry


Role at the Company

My main responsibility is to manage the day-to-day activities the Production Services Team, providing them with my support to allow them to execute client programs. Areas I bring insight to the team include creative, print, data processing, laser personalization, lettershop, and mailing for direct response agency clients nationwide, including based public television and public radio stations across the United States.

What excites you about your work at AFG?

What I enjoy about working in the non-profit arena is the enthusiasm and dedication of our clients. My mission is to assist them in achieving their goals, and to allow our clients to stay focused on their primary responsibility, spreading awareness for their cause.

If you weren’t at AFG, what would you be doing?

If I had not pursued a career in the direct mail/production world, I would have enlisted in the United States Coast Guard. Talk about a very different career path.

What are your hobbies/interests outside AFG?

If I can get anywhere near the ocean I am a happy person. Because of that love for the ocean, I am a very avid sailor. I race on a friend’s boat, and also own one with my husband for recreation. Vacation on a boat is where its at for me. When we don’t have the opportunity to be out on the boat we try to hit up the beach. Winters are a little tough in New England for boating, so we pass the time skiing.

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

Vacationing in Maine with my Grandparents during summer break. They would rent a house for the entire summer on a lake.

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