Nonprofit Mail Proposal Draws Mixed Comments

The U.S. Postal Service has received about 60 comments in response to a controversial proposed change in the nonprofit mail rule, the agency said last week.

The current rule says that any mail piece sent at the nonprofit rate must be owned and controlled by the nonprofit, though it can contract with a for-profit fundraiser if the nonprofit remains the principal agent.

The proposal, filed May 6 in the Federal Register, would allow nonprofits soliciting monetary donations to use professional fundraisers but still mail at the substantially lower nonprofit rate.

Comments, which had to be postmarked by June 5, were still coming in, according to the USPS.

The Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers and Association of Fundraising Professionals issued a joint comment opposing the proposal because it leaves room for abuse. However, it said that the cooperative mailing rule probably needs fixing and suggested that most egregious abuses could be prevented with modest additions to the proposal.

Their proposal called for greater protections against fraud and abuse and suggested six criteria that the nonprofit group and the commercial fundraisers must satisfy to qualify for the preferred rate:

· No undue influence by the nonauthorized party in the decision making for the fundraising contract.

· Requirement of a written contract signed by a board member or officer of the nonprofit organization.

· Nonprofit organizational control over collection and disbursement of all funds collected.

· Nonprofit ownership and control of the donor list.

· Nonprofit ownership and control over any intellectual property in the fundraising package.

· Fair credit terms that are not based on continued employment of the commercial fundraiser.

The proposed rule “allows for substantial nonprofit mail volume increases — particularly fundraising mail — that might involve one-sided and abusive arrangements between a nonprofit and a commercial fundraising firm,” said Neal Denton, executive director of the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, Washington. “And recent experience teaches that such one-sided arrangements are likely to proliferate if permitted by law.”

Kelly Browning, executive vice president at the American Institute for Cancer Research, offered comments in support of the rule, saying it would let nonprofit mailers make the best deal possible for their organization.

“I believe that these proposed changes are vitally important for charities, particularly those smaller charities who cannot afford to implement fundraising efforts in-house and therefore must use outside professional fundraisers,” Browning said in his filing. “I welcome these changes and firmly believe that nonprofits, both large and small, will benefit from their adoption and implementation.”

After reading the comments, the USPS can decide there are enough comments supporting the change and continue with the proposal, it can alter the proposal, or it can publish a completely new proposal. There is no timetable for the postal service's decision.

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