Let's Raise Some Money
Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Please Quit Deceiving Your Donors With Your Reply Envelopes

January 27th, 2015 by Karen Climer
This envelope uses Business Reply Mail.  The organization expects to pay for postage.  If you put a stamp on it, you save the organization that expense.

This envelope uses Business Reply Mail. The organization expects to pay for postage. If you put a stamp on it, you save the organization that expense.

I’ve noticed a common practice on reply envelopes that I believe is deceptive and dishonest.  I don’t think these nonprofits are intentionally deceiving the public.  I think it’s more a matter of following the herd without putting any thought into it.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has a swell service called Business Reply Mail.  Many nonprofits (and for-profits, for that matter) will include an envelope where the upper right corner says, “No postage necessary if mailed in the United States.”  I assure you that USPS is not mailing this for free.  It is more like a collect call where the receiver of the mail agrees to pay the postage.  At some point, nonprofits started including a notation on the envelope that said something like, “Your stamp allows us to do even more.”  This is true.  If the donor puts a stamp on the envelope, the sender pays the postage instead of the nonprofit taking a small part of their donation to pay for the postage.  This would be like the donor making a long distance call instead of a collect call.  (Please bear with my outdated analogy.  It wasn’t that long ago that we paid for long-distance calls.)

These envelopes are deceptive.  The organization has not offered to pay the postage for you.  Your stamp is required by USPS.  It does not help the nonprofit organization.

These envelopes are deceptive. The organizations have not offered to pay the postage for you. Your stamp is required by USPS. It does not help these nonprofit organizations.

Many nonprofits wisely choose not to use business reply mail.  They include a reply envelope with no option for the nonprofit to pay the postage.  This means the donor put her own stamp on it, or it doesn’t get delivered.  Having the nonprofit pay the postage is not an option in this case.  Many nonprofits saw the notations on the business reply envelopes and decided to include a similar notation on their envelopes that said, “Your stamp increases your gift to Wonderful Nonprofit.”  That is an absolute falsehood.  The nonprofit has not offered to pay for the postage, so how does it help the nonprofit?  The donor’s stamp does not increase their gift to Wonderful Nonprofit.  Their stamp money goes directly to USPS.  If the donor didn’t put a stamp on it, USPS would not deliver it because Wonderful Nonprofit never made arrangements with USPS to pay for postage on behalf of Wonderful’s donors.

If you are using business reply mail, it is fair to ask donors to pay for the postage, and it’s true that the stamp allows more money to go to the organization.  The organization is saving $1-$2 per mailing.  If you are not using business reply mail, please stop deceiving your donors.  It is more than reasonable to ask donors to pay for their own postage, but don’t tell them that their stamp supports your organization when you never offered to pay for the postage in the first place.  That stamp  supports the United States Postal Service.  The money that’s inside the envelope supports your organization.  Don’t tell your donors any differently.

I would love to hear what you think.  Am I being too harsh?  Are organizations being deceptive?  Please leave a comment below.

Posted in Direct Mail, Ethics

6 Responses

  1. Shannon

    We’ve used BRM in the past, and we learned the hard way that it’s actually a mistake to ask for a stamp to replace the postage cost. The way BRM is processed, the organization gets charged anyway — so you’re paying twice for postage (unless you save all the double stamped envelopes and apply for a refund from the Post Office).

    I think the scale of deception that you’re talking about is pretty darn small, and it’s probably inadvertent. What is getting lost in the translation to a little stamp space is that paying for postage with BRM is really very expensive (more expensive than a stamp), and it is saving the nonprofit a lot of money on bulk postage if folks will just use a little old stamp of their own.

    The worst thing to do, in my understanding, is both BRM and a stamp!

  2. Karen Climer

    Ooooh, this is good information about the BRM getting charged twice. I was not aware of that. Thank you for sharing with us.

    I always recommend a courtesy reply envelope that is not a business reply envelope. That way, you provide the convenience of the envelope, but the donor has to provide the stamp.

    Thanks for reading, and thanks again for sharing that information about the double charging.

  3. David C Crafts

    When a letter with “no postage necessary…” by a non profit is returned by donor without a stamp, are you saying the non profit still has to pay same amount? What is the cost to non profit of returned letter with/without a stamp?
    I always assumed, and their statement seems to indicate, that my 1st class stamp over the “no postage…” sign made it an ordinary first class letter that non profit doesn’t have to pay any more for.

  4. Karen Climer

    If the envelope says, “No Postage Necessary,” it counts as a first-class letter. The nonprofit would pay the regular first-class rate plus a small surcharge. (I don’t know the exact amount.)
    I thought the same thing you thought — that putting a stamp on it would mean the nonprofit wouldn’t have to pay. Shannon’s comment says that what actually happens is the stamp gets cancelled, plus the nonprofit gets billed for the same envelope, but the nonprofit can apply for a refund. That’s seems like cumbersome process, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
    Unfortunately, it has been years since I have used Business Reply Mail, so I don’t have any better information than that. I always recommend to clients that they use a courtesy reply envelope and require the donor to pay the postage.

  5. 321wriley@gmail.com

    This was truly misleading. A nonprofit is being truthful when it says that the donor will help them save money (or have more money to spend) if the donor pays for postage. That’s absolutely TRUE. Why? Because the nonprofit is not shelling out the postage cost.

    If you want to complain about something, it’s the fact that the nonprofit rate has an inherent cost to the nonprofit – the fees paid for the postal license. There’s an annual fee plus a per piece fee.

    I also wonder how experienced a consultant can be when anyone can create a website and declare themselves to be expert.

  6. Karen Climer

    I’m not sure how it is misleading. If I include a courtesy reply envelope (meaning that if the customer doesn’t put a stamp on it, it will not be delivered), and I say “Your stamp helps save us money” (when it actually allows the mail to be delivered), the nonprofit is misleading you. They are leading you to believe that by putting a stamp on the envelope, you are helping the nonprofit, when you are in fact paying USPS for a service. In the bottom photo with the three envelopes, the envelope would never be delivered without postage. A nonprofit does not have to pay a fee or get a postal license to use this type of envelope.

    Please note that I am not referring to Business Reply Mail. With business reply mail (the top photo), the nonprofit DOES have to pay for postage, so you are correct that when the donor pays for the postage, the nonprofit has more money to spend. I never suggested that have the phrase on business reply mail was misleading. I am claiming that having it on courtesy reply mail is misleading.

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