USPS Rule on First-Class, Standard-Mail Rates Leaves More Questions
The U.S. Postal Service’s final rule change to its Domestic Mail Manual, which amends standard-mail postage rates, including nonprofit rates, will take effect June 1, 2005, according to the Oct. 27, 2004, issue of the Federal Register.
The new rule modifies a proposed rule appearing in the Federal Register in April. That proposal called for an “exclusive-purpose” test in which “personal” information about an addressee would be permitted at standard-mail rates only when “advertising” or “solicitation” is the exclusive purpose of the piece and personal information is included solely to increase the effectiveness of the ad or solicitation.
The proposed rule would have been detrimental to those organizations that follow the AICPA’s SOP 98-2 “dual purpose” test for their mail.
Given the requirements of SOP 98-2, the rule would have denied the standard-mail rate to any nonprofit mailer that conducts a joint activity through the mail because the piece would serve more than one purpose -- even if the nonprofit mailer intended to solicit donations.
For example, assume a mail piece includes a cover letter seeking donations from members. The letter lists the member’s donation from the previous year -- which is considered personal information by the USPS -- and urges the member to double the amount this year. Now, the only purpose for the inclusion of this personal information is to support the solicitation for donations. But what if the mailing also includes a preprinted brochure outlining the extent of international famine conditions? The purpose of this brochure is, at least in part, educational. What is the exclusive purpose of the mailing: to educate or solicit?
The Direct Marketing Association’s Nonprofit Federation stressed that the new rule would have been harmful to nonprofit organizations because they would potentially have mail pieces rejected. The rule would have been too subjective, leaving too much open for interpretation by postal employees. Copywriters and nonprofit mailers need to know with certainty how much they can personalize and what kind of personalization is permissible.