How to Save Money on USPS Direct Mail Postage with Barcodes

USPS Direct Mail

Do you ever wonder how your USPS direct mail gets to your donor’s mailbox?

And how you can use best practices to save money on all of your nonprofit USPS direct mail campaigns?

Have you ever been to the National Postal Museum in Washington, DC? It’s located right next to Union Station and access is FREE.  The museum shows in interactive ways how it all began. You’ll see how people literally risked their lives to make sure that the mail got delivered. From horse to stage coach to trains to planes…

I’ve worked in direct marketing and fundraising for more than 35 years. My livelihood and that of most nonprofits continues to depend on USPS direct mail delivery. If you ever find yourself in Washington DC with half an hour or an hour to spare, I highly recommend adding the Postal museum to your list.

I discover new things every time. This time I spent some time in the ‘Systems’ room. I watched the most fascinating video on how the United States Postal Service processes mail, flats and packages. The words WOW came to mind several times during this short presentation.

Zip codes and Barcodes make USPS direct mail happen

It’s mind boggling how many millions of pieces of direct mail are processed every day by the USPS. Different sizes. Different shapes. Typed. Printed. Handwritten. And yet, they make it to your or your donor’s mail box in short order.

It all started with the development of the zip code in 1963. The term ZIP is an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan. It was chosen to suggest that the mail travels more efficiently and quickly (zipping along) when senders use the code in the postal address.

The Intelligent Mail barcode is a 65-bar Postal Service™ barcode used to sort and track letters and flats

This barcode allows mailers to:

  • Use a single barcode to participate in multiple Postal Service programs simultaneously
  • Expands mailers’ ability to track individual mail pieces
  • Provides greater mail stream visibility.

This makes mail delivery even faster to scan, easier to track and cheaper to deliver.  

Now, when a piece goes through the sorting machine, in a fraction of a second:

  1. A camera takes a picture
  2. The bar code is checked
  3. It directs where the piece goes next

Even if the piece is handwritten, the picture will look for the bar code. The mail only gets kicked out to a more manual process if the handwriting is illegible or no barcode is present.

In my CharityHowTo webinar, Direct Mail is Not All About Writing: How to successfully organize and execute direct mail appeals, you’ll hear about the nuts and bolts… the practical and perhaps not so ‘sexy’ do’s and don’ts that go into getting your USPS direct mail appeals out in the most cost-effective way at the lowest postal rate.

In the webinar, I explain the importance of segmentation, but also the importance of using bar coding and National Change of Address to ensure the 12% of Americans who move on average every year still get their your mail. Next, I explain the importance of getting the data back after NCOA runs it so that everything goes to the correct address.

The faster the post office can process your mail, the faster it gets to its destination, and therefore, the sooner you can get your donations in the door.

“I don’t like all those codes on the letters I send to my donors.”

I hear that quite often. Yes, it’s important to make the mail you send to your donors or prospects look as personal as possible, but the reality is that the post office will spray that bar code on the piece anyhow, to help ensure it gets to the right location. So, you’re actually better off putting it on there before the mail goes out so you’ll be able to save some money on postage.

Having the correct address for your donor (or prospect) is key.

Making sure that your direct mail is all readable and scannable is key. One recommendation I always make: Make sure that you and perhaps a few others in your organization get ‘seeded’ in the mail. That means adding your home address to the mailing list, so you’ll know when the mail gets delivered in your area. Do this for each direct mail group.

And, if you want an electronic record of it, you can sign up for a great Free USPS service called Informed Delivery. First, go to and sign up with your home address. Then, every morning, you’ll get an email with pictures of the mail pieces that are scheduled to come to your mailbox. Fascinating, isn’t it?

Just think about it, for about $0.17 to $0.18 a piece, your nonprofit USPS direct mail letter-sized piece gets delivered to the donor or prospect. That deserves a WOW in my book.

Want to learn more about successfully planning an executing your next direct mail campaign? Check out my CharityHowTo webinar, Direct Mail is Not All About Writing, so you can learn how to raise more money with your direct mail appeals!


About the Author

Erica Waasdorp lives and breathes direct response fundraising. She says she can even be considered a Philanthropyholic. Building partnerships and trying to find the best solution for donors and her clients are what Erica does best. Her experience in monthly giving has given her an edge for those clients who are ready to embark on this way of giving.

Check out all of Erica’s free and premium trainings at CharityHowTo!

Topics: nonprofit marketing, donor mail, usps direct mail, direct mail nonprofits, Nonprofit Tips & Tricks