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Pop Quiz: Is having a low percentage of unique names on a prospect mailing list a positive or a negative indicator of success?

Answer: Positive.

When mailing prospect (or acquisition) direct mail fundraising packages, your nonprofit’s list broker will order outside lists which then must be put through a merge/purge process.

This process helps you determine which records you cannot mail due to a variety of factors, such as bad addresses, NCOA non-matches, names that match the national DMA “Do Not Mail List,” names that match your internal “Do Not Mail List,” names that are already in your database and so on.

The merge/purge process also identifies which records are on more than one list or multiple lists. These records are known as multi-buyers, or “multis.”

Multis generally perform very well, and the reason is very logical. If your list broker has done their job selecting good third-party lists to mail then the names found on more than one list should do even better than those found on one list.

The merge/purge tells you lots of great information. One of the key pieces of information is the percentage of names per list that are unique to only that list. In other words, what percentage of names are found only on that list and not on any other list in the same merge/purge.

Many service bureaus who perform merge/purge will calculate the number of unique names for you. If not, it is simple to calculate. First, take the total number of names received (the input) and then divide that number by the total number eligible to be mailed after merge/purge (the output).

As described above, it’s good to have multis. So is having unique names bad?

If you go back after a prospect mailing results are complete — wait at least 90 days — and associate the final analysis back to the merge (standard metrics are percent response and ROI), those lists with the highest percentage of unique names will trend toward the bottom.

Conversely, those lists with the lowest percentage of unique names will trend toward the top.

To be clear, in this scenario, 95% unique names is bad, and 45% unique names is good.

I have often heard list brokers, account managers and clients saying they want to find the lists with the “new names” — the names that aren’t on any other lists. When I hear this sentiment expressed, I always think of a direct marketing maxim often repeated by my father:

“If you want to find new prospects, go out and look for people that look as much like your current donors/customers/subscribers as possible.”

This flies in the face of advice to stay on the cutting edge of technology and social media to find the next generation of prospects. And I am fine with that. If your nonprofit wants to maximize your chances of success in acquisition, you should be looking for records found on more than one of your outside mailing lists.

This results in a low percentage of unique names … and that is a good thing.

But there are a couple of exceptions to this rule:

  1. Very small universe size lists — Sometimes small lists have wacky results because the small sample size makes response sizes that are statistically insignificant.
  2. Co-op lists — There are companies doing excellent work in the co-op database space. Many of these companies create models based on a multitude of data points and find prospects not found on other lists.

So how can your nonprofit best use this information? I’d recommend you start compiling the information noting the percentage of unique names vs. results.  You can add one column to your current bluebook report. That way, if you ever need to make cuts to a mailing post merge/purge, you have the data to do so.

I would cut out the list or lists with the highest percentage of unique names IF I had to make cuts after ordering lists. I think if you track the data, you will feel comfortable doing the same.

If you need any help with ordering lists, managing a merge/purge or any other aspect of prospect mail acquisition, contact Lawrence Direct Marketing, Inc. today.