Washington Nonprofit Conference Keynote: 'Will the Mail Be There in the Future?'
"In the postal world we've been hearing nothing but bad news."
Those were the words of Robert Taub, acting chairman of the U.S. Postal Regulatory Commission, in his opening keynote at the DMA Nonprofit Federation's 2015 Washington Nonprofit Conference. And it's true. You can't go a month, let alone quarter or year, without hearing about the desperate times for the United States Postal Service, and the numbers back this up.
Taub himself relayed that the USPS suffered a net loss of $5.5 billion in 2014, and he admitted that total mail volume in 2014 dropped to levels not seen in 27 years. And it gets worse … that total volume is expected to reduce even more in 2015.
"But there is good news," Taub continued. "There is strength in our system."
Taub discussed how postal issues are one of the few issues that touches almost everyone, and that is especially true for nonprofits. It's been a vital cog allowing nonprofits to be able to do their good works, and Taub thanked the nonprofit sector for "always looking for solutions for the postal service and understanding the importance of the postal service."
He also said that the USPS facilitates trillions of dollars in business and commerce every year and employs almost 8 million people. It's good for the economy, good for fundraising and good for nonprofits.
However, while Taub focused as much as he could on the positives, the fact of the matter is things aren't going well for the USPS overall. People have fundamentally changed the way in which they consume media, and the USPS does not expect the volume lost in mail to electronic resources to come back. In addition, the USPS does not have the cash to pay down its debt or put into capital for its business, and while it is a government agency, the USPS receives no tax funds.
So, Taub said, the "postal service needs radical changes if it wants to survive. The USPS must adapt to meet the needs of how people consume mail today."
The problem is the public isn't even quite sure how losing the USPS would affect daily life. In fact, while more than 98 percent of people surveyed in a focus group said their lives would be negatively affected if the USPS failed to exist, they all had trouble defining how and why, Taub said. That's troubling in and of itself.
Of course, the nonprofit sector knows how vital the USPS is for providing direct mail, soliciting donations and building relationships with donors. Without it — and without the nonprofit rates — the sector would take a huge hit … the type of hit the USPS has already taken.
Taub urged attendees to continue to keep these issues in the limelight, but ultimately, he offered no solutions. While there may be some good news, Taub himself was short on truly offering how that good news actually may help the USPS stem the tide and reverse course.
It was an engaging keynote, but at the end of the day, the USPS is still in trouble, rates won't be going down anytime soon, and the nonprofits are going to be affected one way or the other.
And really, it was one of Taub's early comments that represents the state of the postal service in 2015: "In five months the USPS celebrates its 240th birthday. Very few people wonder if the mail will be there — it's always there and always has been … but will the mail be there in the future?"