The topic of address verification is unlikely to become the Next Big Thing™ everyone talks about when they go out with their friends on the weekends.
But for nonprofits who to truly want to be successful, it must be high on the priority list.
So what is it?
As the name implies, address verification is simply a service which verifies physical mailing addresses to make sure they are valid and "mail-able". You may have heard the term "CASS certified" which means an address is in the US Postal Service's comprehensive list of deliverable addresses.
Why is it important?
Deliverability - What good is that amazing direct mail piece you worked on for weeks when it winds up in the lost mail bin or returned as undeliverable? Or worse, when a donor calls asking for a tax receipt… for the 3rd time.
Fraud Protection - More and more transactions are moving to electronic methods which rely heavily on address verification for fraud protection. Address verification for your addresses should not be confused with the "Address Verification System (AVS)" developed by the credit card industry to match billing zip codes with credit card numbers. (With that said, a typo in the zip code in your database will almost always result in declined charges even though the card is valid and the donor is eager to support your cause.)
Cost Savings - Some cost savings are obvious (such as reducing undelivered mail) but people rarely account for the systems and personnel cost of dealing with errors which are totally preventable through automated address verification. And most importantly, the donor is always right—even when they are wrong. So whether errors are introduced by staff or by donors themselves, address verification moves the conversation away from "how did this happen" to "already fixed before anyone noticed or asked."
How does it work?
At StratusLIVE, we have fully integrated address verification directly in all our software. If you are not sure about your provider, just check with them.
There are 3 primary ways you can implement an address verification processes into your daily operations.
Outsource Batch Verification - While less elegant than other methods, this one-time process is especially to help you clean up your existing donor database. You simply export all your addresses, ship them off and then re-import the results back into your database.
Directly in CRM - In StratusLIVE, you can verify individual contact records or large batches of records on the fly. Imagine working on a marketing list for a direct mail effort and being able to verify the addresses before you commit the list to your print house. How much time and effort could your nonprofit save?
Website forms - The old saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" could never be truer. Most of the address verification services provide web integration options. This method is fantastic for making sure bad addresses never get introduced into your donor database in the first place.
Online engagement works like this: let's say there are multiple campaign responses available on your website. Each of these creates an interaction touch point for your constituent. Each one is also a place to collect more information, maybe a donation or signing up as to volunteer or perhaps to become a member of your association.
As the visitor fills out the form, the website prompts that the zip code does not match the city or there is a typo in the street name. The website form can also make standardization suggestions, such as replacing "DR" with "Drive" for example.
The transaction details are clean before they ever get entered into your donor database.
Who provides address verification?
To answer this question, you need to understand 3 working parts:
Who is the final authority? In the United States, the nerve center for of address formatting and validation are handled by the US Postal Service. To be CASS certified, an address must reside in their master database and follow all proper formats.
Address Verification Service Vendors. There are quite a few and each of them have pros and cons. We recommend Smarty Streets™ and have good success integrating them to our software. A quick internet search returns many results for address verification providers.
Your software. You can run batches without any integration to your donor database other than basic export/import and that's sufficient in some cases. However, if you are a medium to large organization, you need an integrated solution.
With API integration like StratusLIVE offers, you can run large or small batches without the hassle and time of manual export/import, while ensuring updates append to the right donors.
Your software should also allow import files (like those from caging vendors, or other systems not connected to your donor transactions) to be automatically scrubbed, and it should also handle one-time verification when staff are working on specific records.
And finally, your external facing web assets, such as your website, registration pages, donation pages, and workplace campaign software should also verify addresses in real time. Ideally, this will happen simultaneously as the donor fills in the online forms.