Priority Mail: Back to Basics

The end of the year seems like a good time to get back to basics and review some of the fundamentals of mailing services that you or your staff may have forgotten.


Non-profit Postage Rates

Non-profit postage rates for standard mail (originally third class mail) were established by Congress in 1951 for designated categories of organizations, and expanded in 1978 and 1993. To be eligible for non-profit rates, a mailing must qualify as standard mail and meet restrictions on content.

Mailers are in the habit of talking about “non-profit permits”. That’s shorthand that veteran mailers understand but may be confusing to new mailers (or new CSRs). So here’s the basic fact: there is no such thing as a non-profit permit.

What is called a non-profit permit is actually authorization by the USPS for the organization to mail at non-profit rates. The authorization comes in the form of a determination letter from the USPS to the qualified organization, which results from the organization’s application using PS Form 3624 Application to Mail at Nonprofit Standard Mail Prices. The idea of a non-profit permit probably originated from the fact that many non-profit organizations have both a permit to mail at bulk rates and authorization to mail at non-profit rates.

Not all non-profit organizations can qualify to mail at non-profit rates. The first test is whether the organization fits into one of nine categories of eligibility (agricultural, educational, fraternal, labor, philanthropic, religious, scientific, veterans, and some political committees). Some examples of excluded organizations (even though it seems like they should fit) are automobile clubs, business leagues, chambers of commerce, most political organizations, and service clubs such as Kiwanis, Lions, and Rotary. Details, including definitions and examples for each category, can be found at

The authorization to mail at non-profit rates can be “attached” to any permit—one owned by the qualified organization or one owned by a professional mailer. In addition, the qualified organization can use PS Form 3623 Application for Nonprofit Standard Mail Rates at Additional Mailing Office to mail at a different post office than the one where the original authorization is held.


Why EDDM Must Be Flat Mail

Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM), the USPS program to expand the use of direct mail marketing, was rolled out in January 2010. It had several distinctive characteristics—the simplified address format (e.g.: Postal Customer) could be used, meaning no mailing list was required; with some restrictions, no permit would be required to mail at presorted rates; and if entered at the destination delivery unit (DDU), the mailer could claim the lowest postage rate available—saturation.

The sticking point for many mailers was the size of a mail piece that qualified for EDDM. It had to be a standard mail flat, and the allowable dimensions (length, height, and thickness) created confusion for mailers. Frustrated, many mailers were unclear as to why letter sized mail couldn’t be used.

The answer is quite simple. Prior to implementation of EDDM, the USPS had to seek permission from the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) to allow the use of the simplified address format on city routes. Until the change was made, simplified address was allowed only on rural routes, highway contract routes, or USPS boxholders at a post office without city carrier service. While simplified address can be used for both letter and flat mail in those circumstances, for city routes only flat mail was authorized for the simplified address.

The EDDM program proved itself and in October 2012 was made a permanent product by the USPS.


Pros and Cons of EDDM

When comparing EDDM to traditional targeted mailings, EDDM has several advantages:

• No mailing permit is required.

• The simplified address format means no mailing list is necessary.

• All mail pieces will be delivered unless the residence or building is unoccupied.

• The saturation postage rate—usually the lowest available—can be claimed.

• Charges for mailing services are lower because there is no addressing, presorting, or address verification required.

• The mail piece size (standard mail flat) means it will stand out in the delivered mail.

However, EDDM does have limitations:

• It cannot be targeted to individuals or businesses with specified characteristics. EDDM targets a geographic area such as carrier routes or zip codes only.

• The larger size flat mail piece may cost more to print than a letter size mail piece.

• EDDM can be limited to residential addresses only (provided there are enough to meet standard mail eligibility requirements), but cannot be limited to businesses addresses only.

• All mail pieces must be identical—no personalization (such as variable data printing) that is allowed on a non-EDDM mailing is permitted.

What this means is that EDDM is best for neighborhood retailers and service businesses—companies whose target audience is geographically proximate to the location of the business itself. Some examples are local restaurants, dry cleaners, auto repair shops, or any other business whose customers live or work in the neighborhood.


The USPS Mail Path

Understanding how mail travels through the USPS will help mailers estimate delivery times and explain how presorting assists in faster mail delivery.

Here are the processing steps for a single mail piece:

• Mail entry: The letter is deposited in a street or post office mail box.

• Back haul to mail processing plant: Letters are collected from street and post office mail boxes, loaded on a USPS vehicle, and taken to the nearest mail processing facility (usually an SCF).

• Culling and postmark: At the SCF, letters, flats, and packages are separated. Letters are oriented so that all addresses face the same way and are right side up, then the postmark is applied.

• OCR: The address on the front of each letter is scanned by an optical character reader (OCR). Those that cannot be successfully scanned are separated and sent to a remote encoding center.

• Barcoding: A barcode is sprayed on the front of the letter representing the specific delivery address and postal routing. Thereafter, all further sorting is done using the barcode.

• Sorting: Letters are sorted for a specific range of ZIP codes that identify the next processing plant and placed in trays.

• Transportation to next processing plant: Trays are transported, either by surface or air, to the next processing plant. This continues until the tray reaches the mail processing plant that serves the delivery post office.

• Sorting: Letters are sorted into specific ZIP codes, then sorted again in line-of-travel order for each letter carrier.

• Transportation to delivery unit: Mail for each individual carrier is trucked to the delivery post office.

• Delivery: The letter carrier delivers the mail to each address on the route.

For each class of mail, the USPS has delivery standards that state the expectation for how long it will take mail to go from entry to delivery. Delivery standards are just that—standards to be met; not guarantees.

In general, the farther the mail has to travel from entry to delivery, and the more processing that has to be done by the USPS, the longer the mail will take to be delivered. Using a professional mailer saves time by eliminating culling, postmarking, OCR, barcoding, and sortation steps. Plant-verified drop shipments save time by eliminating some mail transportation steps.


Nancy DeDiemar is a former chairman of NAQP and Printer of the Year. She is the co-publisher of Printips (, a newsletter subscription service for printers. Contact her at