Nonprofits Eye Mail Ruling

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The Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, Washington, is urging its members and other direct marketers to pay close attention to a customer support ruling issued this month addressing Nonprofit Standard mail rates.


The Feb. 14 ruling aims to help mailers understand the revised Domestic Mail Manual standards that take effect June 1 regarding the use of personal information in Standard mail matter.


When the ruling takes effect, personal information may not be included in a Standard mail piece unless three conditions are met:


• The mail piece contains explicit advertising for a product or service for sale or lease, or an explicit solicitation for a donation.


• All personal information is directly related to the advertising or solicitation.


• The exclusive reason for inclusion of all personal information is to support the advertising or solicitation in the mail piece.


In the ruling, the U.S. Postal Service said an organization authorized to mail at Nonprofit Standard rates submitted a mail piece to the USPS that contained a field completed by a computer that shows the total amount of donations for the previous year with instructions to "keep this notice as a receipt for tax purposes," as well as a request to "consider making a donation meeting or exceeding the amount contributed last year."


After a review, the USPS deemed the mail piece subject to First-Class postage rates, the ruling said.


The first two conditions in the new rule were met: The request to make a donation meeting or exceeding the amount contributed last year is an explicit solicitation for a donation, and the personal information is directly related to that solicitation. But the piece does not meet the third condition because it includes instructions to the addressee to "keep this notice as a receipt for tax purposes."


Thus, "the personal information is not included in the mail piece exclusively to support the advertising or solicitation in the mail piece, but has a 'dual use' as both a tax receipt and support for a current request for contributions," the ruling said.


"Apparently, the postal service doesn't have a problem with listing what the contribution history is, but the minute you suggest to the donor that you should save this for your tax records, it also becomes a tax receipt, which is supposed to be mailed at First Class," said Neal Denton, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers. "These interpretations are all going to turn on a word or a phrase."


Sherry Freda, manager of mailing standards at the USPS, said the ruling "is not contrary to today's rule." She said the filing was published with a revised ruling showing that nonprofits can use personal information in a Standard mail solicitation for contributions, as long as the personal information is included in the letter to serve the exclusive purpose of soliciting for further contributions.


Denton said that with the new standards effective June 1, "a new, silly game is being introduced, and I'm not sure I understand the value of the new game to the postal service or the mailers. [Instead of interpreting these rules], there are a lot of important things we can be doing to improve mail as a communications tool."


Freda said that the June 1 standards serve an important purpose.


"When we first started this process, there were customers that said we had not been providing clear information, and that we were not being consistent," she said. "In answer to that is the whole reason we are doing all of this."


Freda added that, by far, most mailers are mailing direct mail pieces that are "just fine being mailed at Standard mail rates."


Melissa Campanelli covers postal news, CRM and database marketing for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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