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Customer Support Ruling

 

 

Computer-Prepared Mailpieces Entered by Authorized Nonprofit Mailers
May 2005

PS-323 (243.2.2)

This Customer Support Ruling discusses whether “personal information” present in the mailpiece of an organization authorized to mail at Nonprofit Standard Mail rates causes the piece to be ineligible for Standard Mail rates.

Mailpieces containing personal information must be entered at First-Class Mail rates unless eligible for Standard Mail or Package Services rates under the provisions of DMM 243.2* or DMM 453.2*. DMM 243.2.2* provides that personal information may not be included in a Standard Mail mailpiece unless three conditions are met: the mailpiece contains explicit advertising for a product or service for sale or lease or an explicit solicitation for a donation; all of the personal information is directly related to the advertising or solicitation; and the exclusive reason for inclusion of all of the personal information is to support the advertising or solicitation in the mailpiece. As explained further under section 2, for mail within the nonprofit subclasses of Standard Mail, the term “solicitation for a donation” encompasses a request for any monetary or nonmonetary support for a nonprofit purpose of the mailer.

The remainder of this CSR elaborates on these tests, as well as the threshold question of what information in a mailpiece should be considered “personal information.” We discuss each issue in turn. The examples discussed throughout this CSR are illustrative but are not a complete list.

1.       Does the mailpiece contain personal information?

Personal information consists of information specific to the addressee, other than the date of the letter; the names and addresses of the sender and the addressee; and the name, address, and alphanumeric information that constitutes the sender’s internal routing numbers (sometimes labeled “membership,” “account,” “file,” “case,” or “control”). The following items are some examples of personal information:

(a)     The amount of the addressee’s previous contribution or contributions.

(b)     The total amount of donations by the addressee for the previous year.

(c)     The duration of the addressee’s membership (“member since 1979” or “graduating class of 1979”) or contribution history (“loyal donor since 1979”).

(d)     The expiration date of the addressee’s membership.

(e)     The birth date, occupational title, and similar personal information about the addressee.

(f)       The age, ethnicity, gender, or other demographic characteristics of the addressee, or a medical condition of the addressee or a family member.

(g)     The region, metropolitan area, or neighborhood where the addressee lives.

(h)     The addressee’s polling place, precinct, electoral district, or elected political representatives, and listings of political candidates, ballot propositions, or initiatives recommended by the sender for the precinct or other electoral district of the addressee.

(i)       The number of members or supporters of the mailer in the area where the addressee lives.

The following items are examples of information that is not considered to be personal for mail classification purposes:

(a)       Markings that qualify as “written additions” under DMM 243.2.6 or “enclosures and attachments” permitted under DMM 243.2.5 are not considered personal information.

(b)     The name and mailing address of the addressee are not considered to be personal information. This is true whether that information, or a discrete element of the name and address, is used in the body of a letter, the heading, envelope, or any component of the mailpiece.

(c)       Markings such as “Personal – Do Not Throw Away” or “Important – Open Immediately” appearing on the envelopes of a mailing are not themselves personal information.

2.       Does the mailpiece advertise the sale or lease of a product or service, or solicit for a donation?

As noted above, the term “solicitation for a donation” encompasses a request for any monetary or nonmonetary support for a nonprofit purpose of the mailer. The following items are some examples of the kinds of requests for donations, purchases, leases, or other actions by the addressee that satisfy this test:

(a)     A request for a new or additional donation of funds.

(b)     A request that the addressee join the mailer’s membership organization or renew an existing membership.

(c)     A request that the addressee complete and mail an opinion survey, feedback or evaluation form, petition, open letter, or note or card (e.g., “please sign the enclosed Get Well card, which we will distribute to children with cancer” or “please return this postcard to your Member of Congress”).

(d)     A request that the addressee contribute other services in kind to the organization (e.g., donate time as a volunteer).

(e)     A request that the addressee advance a nonprofit purpose of the mailer by performing services for third persons (e.g., “please volunteer to _____” or “please pray for _____”).

(f)       A request or recommendation that the addressee read literature enclosed in the mailpiece or take any other action that relates to the nonprofit purpose of the mailer. For example, a nonprofit healthcare organization might send the following solicitations:  “Because you have a new baby in your household, we ask that you read the free enclosed booklet or look at the following Web site, www.xxxxxx.org, on how to raise a healthy child” or “Because you have a new baby in your household, you should consider the proper diet for a newborn. Our research has determined that Mickey’s Company makes excellent baby food products.”

(g)     A request that the addressee buy or lease goods or services from the mailer described in the mailpiece.

(h)     An invitation in the mailpiece that the addressee buy or lease goods or services from the mailer, or make a donation to the mailer, by visiting a Web site referred to in the mailpiece (e.g., “See www.xyz.org to order the goods or services we are selling” or “See www.xyz.org to join xyz.”).

(i)       An offer or solicitation, enclosed in a mailpiece acknowledging the payment of a contribution or membership dues, that invites the addressee to purchase goods or services available from the mailer or offered as a membership benefit through a third party (e.g. “Thank you for your donation of $20.00 to our organization. This entitles you to a 10 percent discount on the products offered in our catalog” or “Thank you for sending in your annual dues. Membership in our organization entitles you to a 10 percent discount at Speedy’s Rent-a-Car. To take advantage of this benefit, call Speedy’s at 800-XXX-XXXX and mention that you are a member.”).

(j)       A request that the addressee apply to, enroll in, or contact the mailer to obtain more information about the mailer’s educational institution or program.

(k)     A request that the addressee attend a seminar or event sponsored by the mailer that relates to the educational or other nonprofit purpose of the organization (e.g., a retirement seminar or a health care conference).

(l)       An invitation for the addressee to contact the mailer for additional information that relates to the education or other nonprofit purpose of the organization (e.g., a catalog of courses or a list of publications).

A solicitation need not contain the exact phrases such as “please contribute,” “please purchase,” “please volunteer,” or “please read”; however, there needs to be content that indicates the action requested. This content may be located in any component of the mailpiece. For example, a reply envelope including the endorsement “additional gift” will be considered a solicitation for a donation.

The same mailpiece may contain more than one solicitation. For example, a mailpiece may contain both a request for a monetary contribution and a request that the addressee sign and return a petition for forwarding by the mailer to an elected official.

3.       Is all of the personal information directly related to the advertising or solicitation?

The next step is to consider whether all of the personal information is related directly to the advertising or solicitation. This factor requires the presence of content that ties the personal information to the solicitation or advertisement. For example:

(a)     The expiration date of the addressee’s membership shall be considered to be directly related to a solicitation to renew membership.

(b)     The addressee’s previous history with the organization, or the amount of the addressee’s past gift or gifts, shall be considered to be directly related to a solicitation for a donation (e.g., “generous supporter,” “thank you for your donations in previous campaigns,” “loyal member since 1999”).

(c)     A reference to the neighborhood, county, metropolitan area, or region of the addressee shall be considered to be directly related to a solicitation for a donation raised from or benefiting the same neighborhood, county, metropolitan area, or region.

(d)     Information about the addressee’s polling place, precinct, or electoral district shall be considered to be directly related to a solicitation requesting that the addressee vote at that location concerning a specific cause, candidate, ballot referendum, ballot proposition, or initiative. Information about the addressee’s elected political representatives or political candidates, or ballot propositions or initiatives, shall be considered to be directly related to a request to the addressee to support or oppose those individuals, propositions, or initiatives, or to provide support for a political cause of the mailer.

As a further note, satisfying this factor does not require the presence of the exact terms discussed in these examples, as long as there are some contents tying the personal information to the solicitation. This test will be satisfied, for example, in a mailpiece containing a solicitation for donations if the mailpiece contains (1) language indicating that the addressee has been a regular contributor or volunteer in the past (such as a reference to a past donation or that the addressee has been a “loyal,” “generous,” or “continued” supporter, or similar language), or (2) language connecting past support to the new solicitation as defined in section 2 of this Customer Support Ruling (such as a request for an “additional,” “further,” or “extra” gift or “increased” or “matching” support, or similar language).

As noted above, the personal information need not appear within the same sentence, paragraph, or component of the mailing as the solicitation.

When a mailpiece contains more than one solicitation, the personal information need relate to only one of the solicitations.

4.       Is supporting the solicitation the exclusive reason for including the personal information?

The final step is to consider whether there is any purpose for including the personal information other than to support the solicitation. If nothing in the mailpiece indicates the personal information is included for any purpose other than to solicit the addressee to support a nonprofit purpose of the mailer, all of the personal information in the mailpiece shall be regarded as having been provided solely for the purpose of enhancing the solicitation.

Questions have been raised, however, about acknowledgements of prior donations that combine an acknowledgement for a donation with a solicitation for an additional donation. To provide clarity in this area, we will apply the following bright-line tests.

Mailpieces containing the following language as a description for the use of the piece, along with the amount of a prior donation, will indicate another purpose for inclusion of the personal information and will be considered ineligible for Standard Mail rates:

(a)     “Tax Receipt”

(b)     “Receipt”

(c)     “Keep this notice as a receipt for tax purposes.”

(d)      “Keep this for your records.”

The following examples will not indicate another purpose for inclusion of the personal information and will not disqualify the mailpiece for entry at Nonprofit Standard Mail rates:

(a)      “Your contribution may be tax-deductible.”

(b)       “No goods or services were provided in exchange for this gift.”

(c)     “The IRS requires written substantiation of charitable gifts of $250 or more,” provided that nothing else in the piece indicates that it serves as such substantiation.

*See also DMM 343.2, 443.2, 363.3, 373.2, 383.2, 463.3, 473.2, and 483.2.

(Signed)
Sherry Suggs
Manager
Mailing Standards
United States Postal Service
Washington DC 20260-3436