Another USPS Lump of Coal–Association TRENDS

Association Trends, December 21, 2017

Another USPS lump of coal: Final rule on customized postage

‘No’ on nonprofits eligibility under new standards

As the holiday season gets in full-on mode, we at the Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers unfortunately need to continue delivering bad news from our U.S. Postal Service. The Service issued its final rule on the allowable content for custom postage issued by companies like and Zazzle.

In January, the Postal Service had proposed the new standards that limit subject matter to “commercial” and “social” images or text. While many nonprofit subjects could possibly qualify as “social” because they are for the social good of America, the Alliance requested clarification from the USPS that nonprofit subjects would be eligible. The answer came down as “no.” Apparently, its attorneys are worried that some nonprofit subjects could be “threats to the Postal Service brand,” and it would be “impermissible viewpoint discrimination, which would endanger the whole program.”

So, while the USPS deems some nonprofit subjects or images as too risky, commercial advertising is OK as long as it does not include content “prohibited” by the employees of the Postal Service. And it looks like “commercial” will allow advertising by companies that outsource jobs, pollute the earth, charge excessive prices for medications, produce weapons of mass destruction, and shelter their taxes overseas.

All commercial images and subjects would be acceptable as long as they meet the definition:

“Commercial means intended for no purpose other than the sale of goods or services in commerce.” And they must not have “content that is unsuitable for all-ages audiences, including but not limited to:

(i) Any non-incidental depiction of alcohol, tobacco, gambling, or firearms or other weapons;

(ii) Any depiction of controlled substances, including but not limited to marijuana;

(iii) Any depiction of political, religious, violent or sexual content; or

(iv) Any depiction of subject matter prohibited for display under U.S. law.

(3) Acceptable commercial or social images or text must not contain content that the customer or provider does not have the right to use either directly or under license, including but not limited to images or text that may be the subject of third party rights such as copyright, trademarks, or rights of publicity or privacy.

(4) The Postal Service reserves the right to determine independently whether any image, text, or category of images or text meets any of the Eligibility Criteria contained in this section.”

Nonprofits might be eligible to show their logo or other related image or words under the “social” category:

“Social means promoting or depicting people, animals, items, or events commonly associated with community relations or companionship and likely to generate invitations, announcements, notices, thank-you notes, RSVPs, or similar correspondence.”

Time and practice will tell. It is unfortunate, though, that USPS, motivated by “threats to the Postal Service brand,” considers nonprofits more of a risk than commercial advertisers.


This article originally appeared in the ANM newsletter Alliance Report. Contact executive director Stephen Kearney at