A Postage Problem: Alas Poor Indicia, I Knew You Well


Donation Letters: What Postage Should You Use?

It’s an age-old, nonprofit quandary. To first class or to nonprofit standard A. That is the question.

It might not be as sophisticated as Shakespeare, but choosing what postage to use for your donation request letter can be tricky nonetheless. (See: Nonetheless. As in, VERY Olde English).

You want your mailing to get to donors quickly. And you want them to know how important you are to them, but alas, you have a budget.

What’s a nonprofit mailer to do?

Nonprofit rate option

Most nonprofits, when they do mail at the nonprofit rate, choose to use the nonprofit stamp. This is a good, in-between option.

You get the look and feel of a “real” stamp with the cost of an indicia*. BUT, as with all nonprofit mail, if it isn’t addressed perfectly, the carrier doesn’t have to deliver your donation letter, and the post office doesn’t have to return undeliverable mail to you.

Many letter carriers will try to deliver anyway, and there are many, many times I get donation request letters returned to me, too (thanks to you, USPS overachievers!).

But then, there’s the issue of timing. You have to be on your game to use the nonprofit rate as it can take up to a fortnight to get in your donors’ mailboxes. That’s 14 days in modern English.

And you have to apply to mail at nonprofit rates.

First-class stamp option

For smaller mailings to higher dollar donors, I go with a real live, first-class stamp. I buy the fierceacoolist (What? Shakespeare totally made up words.) looking ones they have so that donors know it’s first class. If the post office happens to have any stamps in stock that resonate with your mission, definitely do that.

But Terri, my volunteers never stick them on straight and they look terrible!

GOOD. Yes, good! That means a real live human being touched this piece of mail, and might be the difference between people opening it and not.

Metered? Nay and verily!

And don’t let someone talk you in to using the meter at work instead of stamps. If you’re going to use the meter, you might as well save money and use the indicia*. It devalues first class by making it look like “junk” or (even worse?) “business” mail (read: bills).

Even with donation letters to larger groups, I will sock away budget money to mail first class once in a very great while. It makes donors feel appreciated a bit more, shortens delivery time (sometimes by a LOT) and guarantees you will get address forwards and undeliverable returns.

Remember that your mailing is a letter to a friend. Make it look that way … so you can be true to thine own self and thine own’s nonprofit.

*Indicia is not the name of a character from Hamlet, but actually the little box on a mailing that says “Postage Paid” with a permit number. Makes direct mail look like, well, direct mail.

Terri Shoemaker is co-founder of Abeja Solutions, a fundraising marketing firm in Phoenix, Arizona. A professional fundraiser, Terri has raised millions of dollars for nonprofit and higher education institutions. Read more from Terri.