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AFP Supports Alert Urging Nonprofits to Contact the USPS and Obtain Advanced Rulings on Sample Mail pieces

(March 21, 2005) As reported recently in eWire, a new rule introduced by the United States Postal Service (USPS) regarding the use of personal information in solicitations will go into effect on June 1, 2005. Many nonprofit mailers may have to change the format and language of some of their nonprofit standard mail pieces or risk paying first-class postage. 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.

Although the USPS has issued several 'Customer Support Rulings' to clarify the rule for nonprofits, not enough information is yet known about the rule and its effect on the nonprofit standard mailing rate. For that reason, AFP is supporting a pending sector-wide alert with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) Nonprofit Federation, the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers, and others with specific action items aimed toward clarifying the parameters of the rule.

As soon as the alert is finalized, AFP will circulate it to our membership.

New Requirements Regarding the Use of 'Personal Information'

The most important provisions of the new rule, which will appear in Section E610.3.1 of the Domestic Mail Manual, allow 'personal information' in a standard mail piece only if all three of the following conditions are met:

  1. The mail piece contains an 'explicit solicitation' for a donation
  2. All of the personal information is 'directly related' to the solicitation
  3. The 'exclusive reason' for including each item of personal information is to support the solicitation in the mail piece

While the new rule appeared to narrow the permitted use of personalized information, neither the rule nor the USPS notices of their promulgation gave clear definitions (or, in several instances, any definition at all) of the terms 'personal information,' 'explicit advertising,' 'explicit solicitation,' 'directly related' or 'exclusive reason.'

The USPS Fails to Adequately Clarify Its Rule

In response to requests from nonprofit organizations and other mailers for clarification of the new rules, the USPS issued several 'Customer Support Rulings' (i.e., interpretive rulings) during the past few weeks. These rulings, however, failed to provide the requisite clarification. In particular, the USPS issued a revised version of Customer Support Ruling PS-262 earlier this month that eliminates the safe harbor for information in a fundraising solicitation about the addressee's previous donation, pledge or donation history. Under the revised version of PS-262, information of this kind in a solicitation may be out of bounds if the USPS decides that the information is not 'directly related' to the solicitation.

Another new Customer Support Ruling, PS 322, states that an acknowledgement of a prior donation in a fundraising solicitation may not contain the language 'keep this notice as a receipt for tax purposes.' Such language, the USPS asserts, would have an impermissible 'dual use' as both a solicitation and a receipt.

Although such rulings are helpful, they still do not provide clear and consistent parameters for nonprofits to follow. In addition, the USPS said that it would accept the submission of actual mail samples from nonprofit groups, but decisions would be made on a case-by-case basis only--an approach that again fails to provide any clear standards for the charitable sector to follow.

Given that the USPS is poised to implement the rule on June 1, 2005, despite the existing uncertainty and confusion, AFP finds it imperative to alert the charitable sector about the pending rule and the need for more in-depth analysis and specific action items.

Again, the alert will be circulated as soon as possible. In the meantime, AFP will keep members apprised of any changes or clarifications before the rule goes into effect at the beginning of June.

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