How often does this happen to you? You are in your office opening mail when the writing on an envelope catches your eye. Perplexed, you ask yourself, “Hmm, when did we start writing addresses like that?”
Mailing addresses in the United States have been written pretty much the same way for decades. With this long-standing consistency at home, we could jump to the conclusion that address formats are just as unchanging in other parts of the world, but we would be wrong. Mailing addresses around the world can and do change. This fact has implications for any organization with donors, advisors, and other constituents outside of the United States.
How do these changes happen? Here are a few examples:
• Ireland overhauled its address format in 2015. Now every address in the country has its own unique postal code, known as an Eircode.
• Dubai recently introduced home mail delivery. Previously, mail was only delivered to post office boxes, so mailing addresses lacked street information. Home delivery required the creation of street numbering system that did not previously exist. If your constituents have home mail delivery, their mailing addresses have changed in the last few years.
• South Korea began using a street numbering system like the one we use in the United States (think “123 XYZ Street”) in 2011. Previously, the country’s mail was delivered to addresses that used a system of numbered building lots on numbered city blocks.
• Over the last decade or so, two different private companies have provided mail delivery service in Lebanon. The first one came up with a street addressing system that residents largely refused to use. Now a push is on to create a new street addressing system for mail.
• In Kenya, where mail is generally delivered to post office boxes rather than to street addresses, it is now possible to use your cell phone number (plus a few extra digits) to have your mail sent to the post office nearest to your phone.
If you work for a nonprofit with alumni, donors, and advisors in other countries, mailing addresses in your database may have changed without your knowledge – and may be useless the next time you send reports, event invitations, or donation request letters. How do you stay on top of these changes, to make sure your addresses are as up-to-date as possible? Here are some steps you can use to get started.
- Pick a country
Run a list of all the countries represented in your database. Where do you have the most international constituents? Start there. Over time, you can work through the country list in descending order.
- Find the correct address format
Google the phrase “address format” with the name of the country where your organization has the most international constituents. Search results will include Wikipedia’s page on global address formats, the Global Sourcebook for International Data Management, and the Universal Postal Union, among others. These sources can help you understand what a mailing address should look like for your focus country.
- Compare your addresses to the norm
Go back to your database and run a list of all the addresses you have on file for that country. Scan those addresses and compare them to the standard format information you found. Flag any addresses that are significantly different from the standard.
- Update your out-of-date addresses
How you handle this step will depend on things like the type of organization for which you work, how extensive the address formatting problems are in your database, and how you balance staff time allocation for this project versus others. You may want to use volunteers to help update addresses by contacting other constituents in their home countries. Alternatively, you may want to contact constituents with bad addresses from your office by phone or email.
- Create a plan for the future
Once you have tackled the most pressing address problems in your database, think about how you will keep these problems in check going forward. You may want to set search engine alerts for the countries where you have the most international constituents and “mailing address” or “address format.” You also can follow news updates from the Universal Postal Union to learn when address changes are planned around the world. When significant address format changes come to your attention, you can update your records before you need to send an important mailing.
Beth Bandy (www.bethbandy.com) helps nonprofits strengthen life-long ties to their global constituents through research, training, and design of effective internal systems. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.