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New Postal Rule Eases Restrictions on Use of Personal Information

(Nov. 8, 2004) Bowing to pressure from the nonprofit sector, the United States Postal Service has changed new regulations on the eligibility of nonprofit mail which contains personal information for Standard Mail rates.

On April 19, 2004, the Postal Service issued a proposed rule that would have forced charities to choose between including personal donor information in their communications and mailing at First Class rates, or distributing generic materials at the cheaper Standard Mail rate.

The new rule, published in the October 27th issue of the Federal Register, allows the use of personal information in certain Standard Mail material. The rule, while not perfect, should not unduly burden most charities, although some questions remain about the rule's impact on certain groups such as membership organizations. The new rule goes into effect on June 1, 2005.

'We're very pleased about the final rule and the changes made by the Postal Service,' said Kyle Button, CFRE, chair of AFP's U.S. Government Relations Committee, which submitted comments about the issue. 'I think it's clear that the Service simply didn't understand the impact this rule would have had on charities, and I'm proud of the many comments made by charities.'

AFP sent out a call to action to members asking them to send letters to the Postal Service about the proposed rule.

Eliminating Dual Purpose Communications?

In general, handwritten or typewritten mail, mail closed against postal inspection, bills and statements must be mailed at First Class rates. Advertising mail, newsletters, flyers and solicitations for contributions can usually be sent at lower, Standard rates.

The original proposed rule set up a new 'exclusive purpose' test for advertising or fundraising that contains personal information. Under the proposal, personal information would only have been permitted in Standard Mail where:

  • advertising and solicitation was the exclusive purpose of the letter, and
  • the personal information included in the letter was directly related to the advertising or solicitation and was used only to increase the effectiveness of the advertisement or solicitation.

This change would have been extremely burdensome for many charities that include educational materials with their fundraising letters. If a nonprofit mailing piece was personalized beyond name and address, the purpose of the mailing must solely have been for fundraising. Otherwise, it must have been sent First Class, forcing the charity to incur additional costs as much as 20 cents per letter.

Minor Change Makes the Difference

The Postal Service made only a minor change in the regulations, which now states that 'The exclusive reason for inclusion of all of the personal information is to support the advertising or solicitation in the mailpiece [emphasis added]."

Therefore, under the final rule, any personal information must be used to support the solicitation material in the communication, but other aspects of the communication (e.g., education, call to action) are unaffected.

There remain some questions about the rule and its impact on member organizations - will they be able to use personal information about members in renewal letters and other communications that aren't solicitations? AFP, the Alliance for Nonprofit Mailers and other organizations will be discussing these and other questions with the Postal Service in the near future.

A copy of AFP's comments are available in PDF format in the Attachments section below.

A copy of the final rule is available at the Federal Register.

AFP wishes to thank the Alliance for Nonprofit Mailers for its leadership on this issue.


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