Examine the mailpiece (including any product) to determine whether it contains any printed or other matter that can be considered advertising for a product or service. Consider the following two conditions and proceed as follows:
- If the mailpiece contains no advertising, the content-based restrictions for advertisements do not apply and the mailpiece may be eligible for mailing at the nonprofit prices.
- If the mailpiece contains advertising for a product or service, apply the appropriate test to determine whether the mailpiece qualifies for the nonprofit prices. (A conclusion that a mailpiece contains advertising does not disqualify it from being mailed at the nonprofit prices.) Go to step 4.
As used in this publication, the terms advertising and advertisement mean anything that “advertises, promotes, offers, or, for a fee or consideration, recommends, describes, or announces the availability of any product or service,” as defined in 39 U.S.C. 3626(j).
Under the law, the advertising restrictions have an extremely broad reach. The content-based restrictions for advertisements apply to written and other material that promotes any product or service. These restrictions include the authorized organization’s advertising of its own products and services as well as third-party advertising (for example, advertising for products or services of other persons, companies, or organizations).
Postal standards provide the following guidance on what is considered to be advertising:
- All material for the publication of which a valuable consideration is paid, accepted, or promised that calls attention to something to get people to buy it, sell it, seek it, or support it.
- Reading matter or other material for the publication of which an advertising price is charged.
- Articles, items, and notices in the form of reading matter inserted by custom or understanding that textual matter is to be inserted for the advertiser or the advertiser’s products in the publication in which a display advertisement appears.
- A newspapers or periodicals advertisement of its own services, issues, or any other business of the publisher, whether in display advertising or reading matter.
Examples: Listing Considered As Advertising
- Authorized organization O mails a letter soliciting donations. The letter does not contain advertisements for products or services. Because requests for donations are not considered advertisements, the content-based restrictions for advertisements do not apply.
- Authorized consumer organization XYZ mails a newsletter containing an article that discusses the merits and prices of insurance policies offered by companies O, P, Q, and R and lists telephone numbers at the companies for obtaining more information. Companies O, P, Q, and R do not pay organization XYZ or provide any other consideration for the newsletter article. Because companies O, P, Q, and R did not pay organization XYZ to publish the article, the article is not considered an advertisement.
- Authorized organization A’s mailpiece contains a solicitation for donations, with prize entry information and a notice that a product or service need not be purchased to enter the drawing for the prize. Because the recipient can enter the drawing without buying a product or service, the solicitation is not considered an advertisement for the prize.
- Authorized organization E’s mailpiece contains a solicitation for donations, sweepstakes entry information, and an announcement that the first 500 persons to return their sweepstakes entry form will receive a set of steak knives. The recipient may enter the sweepstakes regardless of whether he or she sends a donation. Because nothing is sold, the request for a donation is not considered an advertisement. Also, because the recipient is not required to make a donation to enter the sweepstakes, the announcement of the sweepstakes and the knife set is not considered an advertisement.
- If an authorized organization solicits donations and announces that a donation may be paid by credit card, the mention of payment by that credit card is not considered an advertisement for the credit card unless a third party (e.g., the firm issuing the credit card) gives the authorized organization valuable consideration to mention the card. No consideration has been paid for mentioning the credit card as a payment option. Therefore, the reference is not advertising.
A solicitation for a contribution or payment of membership dues announcing a front-end premium is not considered to be an advertisement for the premium. Example: Nonprofit organization A sends a solicitation to individuals seeking donations. The solicitation includes a set of address labels and states, “The enclosed labels are provided for you. Please use them regardless whether you send a donation to our organization.” This solicitation is not considered to be an advertisement for the labels.
A solicitation for a contribution or payment of membership dues that includes an offer for a back end premium (e.g., “If you donate $100, we will send you a free tote bag”), may be considered an advertisement for the premium unless the membership dues or requested contribution is more than four times the cost of the premiums offered and more than two times the represented value in the mailpiece, if any, of the premiums offered.
As explained further in the discussion of steps 4-6, there are different eligibility standards for advertisements based upon the specific product or service advertised. It is important to consider the advertisement to determine the product or service that is promoted.
If an advertisement generally promotes an advertiser’s business, the advertisement is considered to promote the company’s full line of products and services. In contrast, if the advertisement does not promote all the advertisers products or services but only specific products or services, the advertisement is considered to promote only those specific products and services.
Examples: Specific Advertised Products and Services
An authorized organization may advertise its periodical publication if it meets certain statutory requirements (see 6-3.2), regardless of the products or services advertised in the periodical publication. The publication itself may be mailed at the nonprofit prices if it complies with the product restrictions, if it is eligible for mailing as USPS Marketing Mail matter, and if it complies with the rules for prohibited and restricted advertisements (if the publication contains advertising).
Under the law, the following materials are not considered advertising:
- References to membership benefits of an authorized nonprofit organization (see 6-3.3.8).
- Acknowledgments of organizations or individuals who make donations to the authorized organization (see 6-3.3.9).
- Public service announcements for which no consideration is received (see 6-3.3.10).
References to and a response card or other instructions for making inquiries about services or benefits available to members of the authorized organization is permitted, provided that advertising, promotional, or application material for such services or benefits is not included. (This standard is sometimes referred to as the “permissible reference” rule.)
For the purposes of this provision, descriptions of membership benefits available as a part of membership are permissible when they are included in a letter soliciting new members or in a letter asking current members to renew their membership as long as the descriptions constitute less than half of the letter. The benefits described can include any product or service that constitutes a membership benefit and the description may include contents that might be considered advertising in other contexts, such as adjectives, brand names, terms, conditions, and other material describing the product or service.
Caution: With one limited exception, the membership benefits may be described only in the solicitation letter or renewal request, and not in any separate brochure, circular, flyer, or other document. Exception: when the mailer prepares a single sheet describing the organization’s membership benefits, the sheet may be included in the mailpiece along with the letter soliciting new members or membership renewals and considered to be part of that letter as long as the letter does not describe the membership benefits and only refers the reader to the separate sheet. (See CSRs PS-299 and PS–304.)
A listing of sponsors, donors, or contributors is permissible and is a type of acknowledgment. Such a listing is not considered advertising if it meets all of the following conditions:
- The listing of each individual or organization appears on a page under a heading such as “sponsors,” “contributors,” “donors.”
- The listing does not contain promotional material.
- The listing is not labeled as advertising nor are the individuals and firms described as advertisers in other parts of the mailpiece.
A listing containing only the names of sponsors is not considered promotional, but the inclusion of the address, telephone number, other contact information, or additional information might be considered promotional, depending on its content. For example, if the listing includes such a line as “Acme Ice Cream Parlor, Our City’s Favorite Ice Cream Parlor,” the listing is considered an advertisement because the phrase “Our City’s Favorite Ice Cream Parlor” is promotional. The phrase “Acme Ice Cream Parlor” is permissible if that is the name of the sponsor.
Public service announcements (PSAs) are commonly found in Nonprofit USPS Marketing Mail material, especially periodical publications. These announcements are not treated as advertising. PSAs are announcements for which no valuable consideration is received by the publisher; which do not include any matter related to the business interests of the publisher; and which promote programs, activities, or services of federal, state, or local governments or of nonprofit organizations, or matter generally regarded as in the public interest.
Examples: Public Service Announcements