Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Nonprofits should purge their mailing lists

A while back, I complained about “junk mailers” that insisted on pitching to people who had no interest in their product or service, but I’d like to extend that to nonprofit organizations that insist on sending begging mail to me, when I have shown no inclination to contribute.

The National Coalition Against Censorship, for example, has been following me for years despite my not sending them a cent, and yet every couple of months I can count on receiving a pitch for a contribution. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the USO are also regular pitchers that I’ve stopped giving to or do not consider joining, but I regularly get a pitch from them.

Probably the most frustrating junk mail comes from the Tampa public broadcasting outlet WEDU.

I am a rabid supporter of public radio, and believe that National Public Radio and PBS serve absolutely vital functions as well as offer the best programming on the airwaves (except of course for the cable outlets and their entertainment shows). My iPhone is full of podcasts of NPR shows and I eagerly await the latest ones to listen to on my walks.

When I lived in Ellenton, I gave to WEDU, which offered local programming, but they cannot seem to understand that I live in Gainesville now, and cannot receive WEDU, TV or radio. That’s why I’m not giving. You’d think that after countless pitches landed in my mailbox, sometimes twice in one week, they’d realize that, but they haven’t. I want them to do well but if I can’t hear or watch them, I see no reason to give.

This segues into a larger problem that was recently discussed on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation”: the future of the U.S. Postal Service. A New York Times reporter who had written a story noted that she is literally flooded with bulk mail, and most of it ends up in the landfill because she’s not interested in the product or service being advertised. Very little of her mail is of immediate importance.

This is less a slam on the Postal Service than a simple reality that times are changing and the mail is becoming less relevant to people. A medium absolutely chock-full of advertising is soon ignored because the messages start to drown each other out. One woman who called in from Long Island, N.Y., noted that in her town there was no mail delivery, so everyone got a free post office box.

She recounted how she visits the box two or three times a week just to remove the junk mail and throw it out, and rarely gets any first class mail anymore in the box.

The reporter noted that while bulk mail may be the salvation of the postal system, flooding the Upper West Side of New York City with tons of advertising mail would put a vast amount of pressure on the trash disposal system in the city, and already it’s stressed by the amount of mail thrown out – often unread – every day.

I fear for the future of the postal system because I enjoy getting my magazines, and even the catalogs from places that interest me. I may not order from Orion Telescope every time it sends me a catalog, but believe me it’s read multiple times and often triggers a visit to the company’s website for more information on something that might be of interest to me.

Other science-related companies that put out catalogs have gotten my name from Orion, it seems, and I enjoy their catalogs, too. I guess I just want to be a “cafeteria” mail recipient, getting only what interests me.

But bulk mailers need to realize that sending out tons of matter through the postal system at a cut rate is hurting them, and that while rising postal rates are a pain, it might motivate them to be more selective.

One final note: Every time postal rates go up, people predict the end of the world. Well, in December 1972, Life magazine announced that it was ending and a reason given was … rising postal rates. That was 40 years ago. By the way, on Google Books you can see the entire run of the magazine from its first issue in the late 1930s. It’s a fascinating exploration of American history, society and culture through photography.


December 12, 2011 - Posted by | Living in the modern age, The news business | , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Good Afternoon, Mr. Safuto. Sorry if this sounds odd, but my name is John Megahan, I’m web dev at WEDU. Anyways, this popped up under a ‘Google Alert’ that I have for ‘WEDU’ and so I asked membership services to mark you as ‘moved out of viewing area.’ Personally, I do understand and agree with everything you’re saying about paper mail, though I won’t go into details for a number of reasons. Anyways, I thank you for your past contributions and hope things go well in Gainesville! Feel free to email me if you have any further comments or questions.

    Comment by Johnny | December 13, 2011 | Reply

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