Reducing Costs through Mailing List Cleansing and Skilled Volunteers at Quest

Another great example of how non-profits can utilize technology and skilled volunteers to reduce costs and improve services is with Quest Food Exchange.

The Quest Food Exchange, run by the Quest Outreach Society, leverages an innovative business model to rescue food that would otherwise be thrown in the garbage and headed for landfills, and redirect it the local hungry who need it most.  The organization is B.C.’s only food exchange, diverting almost 6 million pounds of surplus food from landfills each year, amounting in $7.12 million of food.   The organization serves 40,000 people a month by providing food to hundreds of social service agencies.

The viability and success of Quest’s programs relies on engagements with donors and constituents who need the organization’s services.  As such, having a reliable way to stay in touch is essential.  When SAP employee Annette Bazin showed up to perform some general volunteer support at Quest one afternoon, she was surprised to see how much volunteer time needed to be spent fixing incorrect address labels on direct mail materials and restamping returned mail.  In speaking with Quest staff, she learned that unfortunately 25% of Quest’s direct mail campaign mailings were being returned, resulting in boxes upon boxes of undelivered outreach materials due to wrong addresses, incorrect postal codes, and non-deliverable addresses.  All of this returned mail translated into thousands of lost dollars-worth of postage and printing costs, manpower, and, most importantly, lost participation by constituents and funders who were not able to be kept informed.  Faced with this challenge, Annette recognized the opportunity to address this problem in a more meaningful way by not just licking stamps and resorting envelopes but dramatically reducing the organization’s undeliverable mail by improving the soundness of the organization’s contact database through SAP Business Objects products.

Annette, an SAP  Corporate Engagement Manager for the Global Knowledge team, leveraged her engagement management expertise to set up and manage the relationship with Quest for this project. Given the non-product focus of her experience, Annette approached me to bring in colleagues who could provide the necessary product and implementation expertise, while she played the role of program manager serving as the main conduit between Quest and her colleagues’ technical support.

Annette worked with me to explore what opportunities there were to partner to meet Quests needs and identify the product and support that would have the greatest impact on the organization. Together, we established the framework for the engagement, setting the goals of the project, identifying Quest’s involvement, and making sure the framework of the engagement was mutually agreeable. Once a clear outline of work was established, SAP Business Objects OnDemand Group Product Manager Colin Adler stepped in to manage the detailed implementation of the database address cleansing process with Quest’s Community Relations Coordinator, the primary user of the mailing list database, and a volunteer charged with updating all the information.  Colin led the Quest team through the technical details of the implementation, and also served in an advisory role to ensure that the Quest team would be self-sufficient after the initial implementation completed.

This project was completed in April 2009, and a mailing campaign conducted less than a month after the completed implementation had a return rate of only 1.5%, down significantly from the 25% return rate the organization was experiencing prior to the database address cleansing solution.  By cleaning of the mailing list of over 500 bad and duplicate addresses, Quest estimates that the this support SAP provided is saving the organization over $5,000 annually. Since Quest is able to leverage each dollar into six dollars of food donations, this represents an additional $30,000 of food available to constituents.  “From a cost perspective, we are saving dramatically” says Elizabeth Crudgington, Quest’s Interim Executive Director. “Prior to [the SAP  support], we needed to have volunteers coming in for hours and hours at a time sorting through returned mail… and [Quest] lost hundreds of dollars in each mailing campaign in reprinting and mailing costs.” And the benefits have only just begun. Elizabeth shared that “we were so pleased with the outcome of this first phase, we are already in discussion for phase two of making better use of our data: dashboarding.  We’ll be exploring what we can do with [this database] with SAP Business Object’s products and support.  The Board is very excited about partnering for phase two.”

The SAP employee volunteers also walked away from the engagement with tangible professional development benefits.  Because his day-to-day role at SAP Business Objects is not typically client-facing, Colin found this engagement particularly beneficial for the opportunity to “sit down with the client user of our software.”  He felt that “engineering employees, for example, whose roles often have less direct exposure to clients, can really benefit from this interaction.  Getting exposure to the kinds of problems that customers face will be immensely valuable down the road.”  Similarly, Annette found incredible value in seeing another important facet of SAP’s business first-hand – “prior to this project I hadn’t been as aware of the data cleansing and management portion of our tools.” She also appreciated that this project gave her “the opportunity to work with other people in my office, which my role does not generally allow, and to work closer with Colin and learn more about his job and what he does”. Moreover, she also found worth in the altruistic nature of volunteering.  “I think the biggest benefit [of this type of project] is that you are contributing to the good of society.  I feel that even with this small project, it has saved [Quest] money, which means that they can feed more people thanks to our product and services.”

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