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.
Postal officials agreed with our concerns and modified the final rule, which now states: “The exclusive reason for inclusion of all the personal information is to support the advertising or solicitation in the mail piece.”
In response to comments from 350 nonprofit groups, the USPS said: “[We] are willing to provide mailers with advance rulings, during planning or pre-production stages of their mailings so customers will have certainty regarding the prices they will be asked to pay at the acceptance dock. This guidance is generally already available to mailers on an informal, local basis, and some mailers on an informal, local basis, and some mailers routinely take advantage of this opportunity. The Postal Service plans to expand the availability of these types of rulings.”
The agency also said it will centralize its Rates and Classification Centers, as well as its Nonprofit Service Center in New York, in a new office: the Pricing and Classification Service Center. This new hub -- set to open Nov. 27 -- would make advance rulings possible, although we fear that this will be very difficult to implement.
We do not have specific details yet but will keep you informed of this important change.
To summarize, beginning this June, your mailpiece must meet the following criteria to qualify for the standard-mail rate:
* The appeal must contain explicit advertising for a product or service for sale or lease, or an explicit solicitation for donation.
* All of the personal information must be directly related to the advertising or solicitation.
* The exclusive reason for inclusion of all the personal information is to support the advertising or solicitation in the mail piece.
Clearly, we have some unanswered questions about the new rule, and we will be meeting with the USPS to obtain further clarity.
Senny Boone is executive director of the DMA Nonprofit Federation. For questions and comments about the new rule, call Senny at 202.861.2498, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.nonprofitfederation.org.