Monday, December 14, 2009

Fundraiser Mailing Goes Out

A small handful of dedicated volunteers prepared the annual LifeRing fundraiser mailing on Dec. 9 at the Service Center in Oakland. If you are on the mailing list, you probably will have received the mail piece by now, or will receive it in the next day or two. That is, unless our paper folding machine ate it.

Here's what it took to get this mailing out to you.

First, preparing the mailing list. This means selecting the most likely donors from our database. In this case, we included everyone who had donated to LifeRing within the past four years, plus everyone who had purchased something from LifeRing Press within the past two years. We also added all current or past LifeRing convenors so that the convenors could take the letter to their meetings and encourage meeting participants to pitch in.

Then, the mailing list has to be verified and sorted. For this we use a program called Dazzle Express, which costs $195 a year. Dazzle Express checks each address in the mailing list against Post Office data to make sure the address exists and the zip code is correct. It also checks for duplicate addresses. This year, the Post Office also required us to subscribe to an additional service that keeps track of change-of-address forms, and costs us an additional $250 for 100,000 addresses. The Dazzle Express software also generates traying reports, tray labels, and other paperwork required by the Post Office for our nonprofit mailing permit.

Once the mailing list is done, we convert it into an Excel file, and this becomes the data file for a Microsoft Word MailMerge printing operation. Once that's running -- and this gave us considerable trouble because of Microsoft Office 7 issues -- the job went to Fluffy, our HP 9050 printer. We acquired Fluffy second-hand from a bankrupt auto dealer at a good discount earlier this year, and it has brought much joy. Fluffy not only printed this duplex job in less than half the time it took last year on our small office lasers, it also spit out the finished paper nice and flat, instead of crinkled as in the past.

Then it was time for the folding machine. Our venerable Martin-Yale light duty friction-feed desktop paper folder, already temperamental in its youth, proved irrepressibly cranky in its decline, and indulged in spectacular paper jams that destroyed more than 50 mail pieces. By the end of the run, the rollers were barely turning over, an acrid overheating smell rose from the apparatus, and even liberal doses of 3-in-1 oil on the bearings revived it only briefly. One of the things we will have to do with the funds we raise is to purchase a new and more robust folder.

From the folder, the surviving stack of folded pieces went into the tabber. The tabbing machine, which automatically places little white round gummed stickers on the edges of the paper to keep it closed, was also unhappy at first, but recovered its good form for most of the run after a spray of WD-40 on its feed rollers. Magical stuff, that.

Then the pieces needed to be placed in the proper Post Office trays. The pieces came off the printer in proper sequence, and there were only four trays, and the Dazzle Express software created a list of what pieces go into which trays, so in theory this should have been a simple operation. But due to the problems with the folder, the pieces got quite out of sequence, and didn't seem to match the numbers on the printed list, so that the whole mailing had to be resorted manually before it went into the trays. This took the operation into a second day.

At the Business Bulk Mail Unit in the main Post Office in Oakland the next day, the clerk checked our work briefly, stamped it OK, and sent us on our way. But the next morning came a phone call that there were problems -- the Post Office's Merlin software found things out of order -- and we had to go back to the Post Office, bring more money, and move things from one tray to another before we had the official blessing.

So, when you get this modest mail piece, please give at least a fleeting thought to the people and the processes that brought it to you. And if you didn't get the mailing but would like to get the warm feeling that comes from helping a deserving nonprofit, you can donate online by clicking here, or you can mail a check to LifeRing Service Center, 1440 Broadway Suite 312, Oakland CA 94612. Thank you.

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