By Michael Baadke
Charity return envelopes franked with recent United States Fruit definitive stamps have been showing up in donation appeal mail.
Pictured here is a return envelope that was enclosed with a donation appeal from an international ministry organization. The unused envelope is franked with five 2016 10¢ Red Pears coil stamps (Scott 5039), perfectly fulfilling the new 50¢ first-class letter rate that went into effect Jan. 21.
Many charities enclose unstamped business reply mail envelopes with direct mail appeals for the convenience of potential donors who might be encouraged to mail in a donation by check or credit card.
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Some charities, however, find that using postage stamps on a return envelope can increase the rate of successful responses from donors.
Nonprofit organizations have looked at the success rates of mailed donation appeals, comparing when enclosed return envelopes are franked with a nonprofit permit postage imprint (no stamp required), a printed box asking “please place stamp here,” a meter stamp, or actual postage stamps affixed to the envelope.
An “Ask the Experts” column published in the January-February 1996 issue of Nonprofit World reported that testing showed that return envelopes franked with actual postage stamps “frequently yield much higher response than either BREs [business reply envelopes] or plain, pre-addressed envelopes. Double the response is not unusual,” according to the article author, Mal Warwick.
“Seeing the stamp, a donor might be impressed by the urgency or importance of the appeal,” Warwick added.
The same column did caution that not everyone has observed similar results.
Affixed first-class postage also guarantees the donation will be returned via first-class mail.
In the May-June 2001 issue of the same magazine, author Tom Keller wrote, “You get better delivery with first-class postage than with nonprofit rates. While deliverability of first-class postage approaches 100 percent, nonprofit rate deliverability has traditionally been a few percentage points less.”
Nonprofit World is a publication of the Society for Nonprofits.
Disabled American Veterans, another nonprofit charity, is well known for combining multiple lower-denomination coil stamps on return envelopes enclosed with direct mail campaigns. It has been reported that the demand for certain stamps by larger organizations has encouraged the U.S. Postal Service to produce specific denominations.
How does all this affect your collecting?
A surprising number of collectors are intrigued by the frequent use of postage stamps as a vehicle for direct mail donation returns, and some collect the intact envelopes franked with stamps, particularly combinations that make up the correct first-class rate.
While these unused return envelopes normally are not dated, it is possible to roughly determine when the envelope was prepared by considering the stamps affixed and the postage rate those stamps fulfill.
The question remains, if you’re keeping the envelope for your collection, do you owe the charity a donation? Collectors have to make that determination for themselves, but certainly the most appropriate way to make that donation would be to mail it in and use a stamp.