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A Nonprofit’s Guide to NCOA Updates

6 min read
May 30, 2024
Alex Huntsberger
6 mailboxes of differnt sizes and colors sitting on a wooden board surrounded by lush greenery.

When one of your nonprofit’s donors moves, how do you know to update their address? If you’re like most organizations, the answer is going to be that you regularly check your mailing list against the NCOA database.

But if that doesn’t apply to you—or if you’re looking for a better way to do it—this handy explainer should tell you everything you need to know about NCOA updates for nonprofits. 

What is NCOA? 

NCOA, or National Change of Address, is a database maintained by the United States Postal Service (USPS) that contains updated address information for individuals, families, and businesses. 

When someone moves and files a change-of-address request with the USPS, their new address is recorded in the NCOA database. Organizations like yours can then access that database to update mailing lists.

In order to access NCOA, you’ll partner with a licensed NCOA service provider. These are businesses authorized by the USPS to access the National Change of Address database and offer address update services. More on them later! 

What Can The NCOA Database Do? 

The purpose of the NCOA database is to reduce the occurrence of returned mail, which means giving individuals an easy way to update their mailing address while helping organizations like yours keep their mailing list up to date and properly formatted.

On the organizational side of that equation, here are several tasks that the NCOA database can help your nonprofit accomplish! 

  • Change of Address Updates: By processing your mailing list through the NCOA database, you can replace outdated addresses with current ones, ensuring that your mailings reach the intended recipients. This is basically the primary purpose of the database. 

  • Address Standardization and Correction: This service ensures that all addresses in your database follow a consistent format according to USPS guidelines, making them easier to manage and improving the chances of successful deliveries.

  • Duplicate Detection and Removal: The NCOA database can help identify and remove duplicate addresses from your mailing list, which is essential for maintaining a clean database and preventing multiple mailings to the same address, and reducing postage and printing costs. 

  • Move Update Compliance: Using the NCOA database helps your nonprofit comply with USPS Move Update requirements, which mandates that address lists be updated at least every 95 days to qualify for bulk mailing discounts (And avoid penalties for non-compliance.  

  • Suppression Services: The NCOA database can also help with suppression services, identifying addresses that should be excluded from your mailing list. This includes addresses of individuals who have moved and not provided a forwarding address, deceased individuals, or those who have requested not to receive mail. 

  • Address Verification: The NCOA checks addresses against USPS records, identifying any inaccuracies or invalid entries, ensuring that the addresses in your database are valid and deliverable.

  • Forwarding Address Information: When individuals or businesses move, they often provide a forwarding address to the USPS. The NCOA database includes this forwarding address information, allowing nonprofits to update their records with the new address. 

In the next section, we’ll dive into all the ways that these services provide real, tangible value to nonprofits like yours. 

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Why are NCOA Updates Important?

This might seem a little obvious, but it’s important that any direct mail pieces you send—whether they’re fundraising appeals, thank-you letters, event invitations, or impact reports—actually reach the people you’re mailing them to!

But, on a slightly more serious note, the benefits of using the NCOA database to update your mailing list go a bit beyond that simple binary. Let’s get into it. 

They Save You Time and Money

In addition to the missed communication opportunities, returned mail also incurs additional costs in terms of postage and printing—not to mention the time your staff will spend dealing with returned mail and updating incorrect addresses manually. 

Using the NCOA database is a crucial cost-saving measure that reduces overhead and allows you to spend money more efficiently. 

They Build Donor Trust

Maintaining accurate address information is also crucial for nurturing donor relationships. You’re not just sending them mail for the illicit thrill of it, after all. 

When donors receive timely and relevant communications, it’s going to reinforce their connection to your nonprofit and keep them on the path to providing continuous support. 

Using the NCOA database to track address changes will also help you reconnect with lapsed donors who have moved.

They Keep You Compliant

We mentioned this in the previous section, but it bears repeating here.

Using the NCOA database helps nonprofits comply with USPS’ Move Update regulation that requires organizations to update their address lists at least every 95 days to qualify for bulk mailing discounts. 

Between losing access to that discount and incurring a penalty for non-compliance, skipping NCOA updates is pretty much a no-go. 

Clean Data is More Useful Data

Finally, regularly updating addresses with the NCOA database is part of maintaining good data hygiene. 

Clean, accurate data is going to enhance the overall quality of your nonprofit’s database, making it easier to analyze donor behavior, segment lists, and generate accurate reports. 

High-quality data supports better decision-making and more effective strategies.

Implementing NCOA in Neon CRM

If you’re looking to make NCOA updates, you are going to have to partner with a licensed NCOA service provider that’s authorized by the USPS to access the National Change of Address database and offer address update services. 

Finding one of these providers is a process much like finding any other partner or vendor. You’re going to want to look at what services they offer, how much they cost, what their reviews are like, etc. 

But for Neon CRM customers, one of the nonprofit sector’s top NCOA providers, TrueGivers, offers a system integration that will get rid of the need for batch updates by automatically updating your contacts.

Want to learn more? Check out this article for details on TrueGiver’s integration with Neon CRM, or sign up for a Neon CRM group demo to get a comprehensive overview of everything the system can do!

Do You Have a Data Management Strategy?

If your nonprofit doesn’t have a plan for NCOA updates, now’s the time to put one in place. But that plan should be part of a larger data management strategy—one that encompasses data collection, hygiene, and security.

It’s a daunting task but one well worth pursuing. Donor data is the engine of contemporary nonprofit fundraising, and a smart data management strategy will ensure that your engine runs smoothly.

Check out the article below for more on the basics of nonprofit data management and how it applies across all your different platforms and tech tools.

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