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Customer Support Ruling

 

 

Membership Benefits - Nonprofit Standard Mail (Permissible References)
Revised January 2006

PS-299 (703.1.6.7)

This Customer Support Ruling discusses the eligibility of membership benefits in a mailing at the Nonprofit Standard Mail (nonprofit) rates of postage.

We are providing this hypothetical mailpiece case-study to elaborate on how to apply the regulation changes in Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) 703.1.6.7 regarding membership solicitations.

As background, DMM 703.1.6.4 prohibits or restricts the use of nonprofit rates for material that advertises, promotes, offers, or, for a fee or consideration, recommends, describes, or announces the availability of credit, debit, or charge cards or similar financial instruments, insurance policies, or travel arrangements.  Materials promoting other types of products or services are also restricted, and are subject to the substantially-related rule in DMM 703.1.6.6. The substantially related restriction is based on non-postal law, and, in administering it, the Postal Service generally relies upon the mailer’s “certification” of compliance under the requirements of DMM 707.1.6.6f.  However, Postal Service standards do not provide any such eligibility ”certification” for matter that otherwise promotes prohibited or restricted travel, insurance, or financial instruments, such as credit, debit, or charge cards.

Our hypothetical case-study mailpiece consists of an introductory letter from the vice president of Lease-A-Pet organization, explaining the purpose of the organization and why membership in it is worthwhile.  In the letter, the vice president states that she is so confident the addressee will want to become a member that she is enclosing a temporary membership card for immediate use.  The temporary card contains no personal information and is formed of a thin, flexible plastic, and lists member benefits on the back.  The card is attached to the vice president’s letter by means of spot-gluing.  Both the letter and the membership card describe membership benefits, including the cost and terms of travel arrangements, insurance, and an affinity credit card.

Under rules in effect before September 9, 1999, any material containing such descriptive information (whether a letter, membership card, or both) was ineligible for entry at the nonprofit rates.  However, effective September 9, 1999, the Postal Service adopted rules in DMM 703.1.6.7 allowing descriptions of member benefits—including travel, insurance, and financial instruments, such as credit, debit, or charge cards—to be entered at the nonprofit rates in certain circumstances.  We adopted the new rules to allow nonprofit organizations more latitude to use nonprofit rates to solicit members.

DMM 703.1.6.7 now provides that an authorized nonprofit organization’s material is not disqualified from being mailed at the nonprofit rates solely because that material contains, but is not primarily devoted to, references to and a response card or other instructions for making inquiries about services or benefits available as part of membership in the authorized organization, if advertising, promotional, or application materials for such services or benefits are not included.  For purposes of this section, description of membership benefits available as a part of membership, including the use of adjectives, terms, conditions, and brand names, are permissible when they are a minor part of a solicitation or renewal request for membership payments. In applying this standard, “minor” is defined as “less than half.”  Measurement is made in accordance with DMM 707.17.4.5.

A solicitation or renewal request in which, to a minor degree, membership benefits may be promoted is considered to include only a printed letter to prospective members or to current members whose membership is about to expire; it does not include any separate, distinct, or independent brochure, circular, flyer, or other documents.  Such separate documents will be considered advertising if they contain any advertising, promotional, or application materials.

Exception: A separate document prepared by the authorized organization, consisting of one sheet, will be considered to be part of the solicitation letter if it describes the organization’s membership benefits and the solicitation letter itself does not describe the organization’s benefits, but instead refers the reader to the separate document.  For example, the cover-letter may state, “Please see the enclosed sheet for a description of our member benefits”; but the cover-letter may not state, “Please see the enclosed sheet for a description of our outstanding member benefits,” or otherwise describe any of the terms or conditions of the benefits.

In summary, adjectives, terms, conditions, and brand names being used to describe travel; insurance; financial instruments, such as credit, debit, and charge cards; or other products or services, are permissible when they are a minor part (less than half) of a solicitation or renewal request for membership payments and there is no other reason to deny the mailpiece Nonprofit Standard Mail rates.

Concerning the hypothetical case-study mailpiece described above, an argument is presented that by spot-gluing the membership card to the vice president’s letter, the card becomes part of the letter, and thereby is not a separate document under 703.1.6.7.  This argument is inconsistent with the new standard.  The solicitation letter and the membership card are considered two separate documents in the mailing.  Since each describes the member benefits, both documents are considered to be advertising and the hypothetical mailpiece is not eligible for the Nonprofit Standard Mail rates.

 

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