What's the most you can cost someone who sent you a prepaid business reply mail envelope?
February 22, 2005 9:27 PM   Subscribe

What's the most you can cost someone who sent you a prepaid business reply mail envelope? I just got one of these, fishing for a tax-deductible donation to a 501(c)(3) group, one I would pay money to see stomped to death. I want to hear from people who've done this and suffered no repercussions, as well as any former or current USPS employees who might know where that fine line is. I'm also open to anything that keeps me on the mailing list, but still costs them more in postage than it's worth.
posted by trondant to Grab Bag (15 answers total)
Response by poster: Bugger. The lead-in should be: What's the most you can cost someone who sent you a prepaid business reply mail envelope? Apologies.
posted by trondant at 9:30 PM on February 22, 2005

Call me crazy, but did you still miss a link, trondant? these = ?
posted by shepd at 9:31 PM on February 22, 2005

Oh, being that the envelope is prepaid, you won't cost them anything more than time + whatever they prepaid for postage (the bulk rates are really low).

If you want to waste their time, I hear filling the envelope with confetti is good for a laugh when the open it. And it's probably not particularly illegal, either.
posted by shepd at 9:33 PM on February 22, 2005

Best answer: "Prepaid" can mean at least two things. One - the less common - is that it actually has a stamp (or two) on it. In such a case, you can try stuffing the envelope such that the postage is insufficient (realizing that USPS rarely checks the weight of an envelope versus the stamps on it), but otherwise they don't pay anything more to USPS when you mail the envelope back.

The more common case is where the envelope is marked business reply mail, with a specific business reply permit number on it. In such cases, the business pays only if the envelope is mailed back. The business will owe a surcharge if the weight of the envelope and its contents exceeds one ounce.

If you put a note that says something like "I'm sorry, I can't contribute at the moment, but please put me on your mailing list - I hope to be able to do something in the future", you may be able to coax additional mailings from them, to which you can reply with mild encouragement but no contributions, and so on.

And, in any case, replying with cost them not only staff time (which they probably pay for), but also the time to input your name and address into their database (they probably purchased a mailing list, and the mailing was via an independent third party, so they don't actually have your information until you provide it.
posted by WestCoaster at 9:46 PM on February 22, 2005

Honestly? $0.34, the standard one ounce Qualified Business Reply Mail rate. You can't even get that up to the two ounce rate, because that goes to a different ZIP+4.
posted by smackfu at 9:47 PM on February 22, 2005

Plus, according to the Straight Dope, if you attach the business reply envelope to a wrapped brick, the post office will just throw it away.
posted by Monday at 10:30 PM on February 22, 2005

How about working for positive change rather than trying to destroy something? Clearly somebody cares about the organization - being a snark in the real world won't change anybody's views and you'll cost them a couple bucks tops.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 11:14 PM on February 22, 2005

Best answer: There are many stories of people sending back unwelcome BRMs attached to bricks or stuffed with gross stuff. Unfortunately, the post office now throws out anything that look like abuse. And since the anthrax scares, putting yucky stuff iin envelopes is probably a good way to get Homeland Security knocking on your door.

But note that USPS policy is to pass along anything that appears to be a legit use of the BRM, even if it exceeds the postage. Perhaps that letter explaining why you'd really, really love to write them a check could include the minor request they send you the nice big pile of info which (if they are tax-exempt) they cannot legally deny you? Definitely hassle factor, plus postage expense, plus there's always the entertainment value of hoping to find some juicy bring-the-house down scandal buried amidst the footnotes in those disclosure documents. ;-)
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:03 AM on February 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

trondant, I added the text you wanted to your AskMe post.
posted by jessamyn at 7:05 AM on February 23, 2005

you could reply to them, asking for more envelopes (with some excuse to explain why - perhaps you want to forwards copy to friends). then, when you get those replies, do the same thing again with each envelope. if you continue doing this you get exponential (ie very rapid) growth in the number of envelopes being used. of course, in practice, you're unliekly to enjoy real exponential growth because you'll hit practical problems like getting bored, needing to use different addresses, etc.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:58 AM on February 23, 2005

My dad always rips up the letters and things sent with the business reply envelope and sends it back in that envelope.
posted by SisterHavana at 8:15 AM on February 23, 2005 [1 favorite]

Business invest in BRM on the theory that a small percentage of them will be returned. Once they purchase the license, they only pay for envelopes which are returned. The best -- and only -- way to hurt their bottom line with respect to BRM is to return more envelopes than they can afford.

If everyone mailed every BRM card and envelope, BRM would disappear. If just a few thousand of us mailed every BRM card and envelope we found, we'd increase postal revenue and help keep the price of stamps low.

And yes, companies are required to pay for any blank BRM returned. See Section 1.2 ("Payment Guarantee") of Form S922. Be aware that some postal employees don't know this, and may trash blank BRM. Solve that problem at your discretion.

More here.
posted by cribcage at 8:36 AM on February 23, 2005

a more entertaining approach might be to have them discontinue mailing you, by exploiting an anti-porn regulation.

Get the form (its a PDF) Application for Listing and/or Prohibitory Order Under US Code 3008 "Postmasters may not refuse to accept form 1500 because the advertisment does not appear to be sexually oriented. Only the addressee may make that determination" (sorry don't have a web link for this but it's in Postal Bulletin 21977 of 7-30-98 which I have in front of me)

So all you have to do is tell the Postmaster the non-profit's materials are sexually offensive to you, to get a Prohibitory Order against them. Then if they offend again by resending their crap, maybe (IANAL) you can sue their asses off.
posted by anadem at 9:28 AM on February 23, 2005

You cannot file a Form 1500.
Postmasters may not refuse to accept form 1500 because the advertisment does not appear to be sexually oriented.
Technically that's correct: Your local postmaster cannot refuse to accept the form. He is required to submit your request, along with a sample of the mail. However, once submitted, the sample will be examined; and if it's not sexually-oriented, your application will be denied.
posted by cribcage at 9:49 AM on February 23, 2005

Response by poster: I think I'm going to ask them for the free brochure, then wait and hit them up for the 501(c)(3) info. Thanks for all the replies & links, and thank you jess for fixing my question.
posted by trondant at 9:13 PM on February 23, 2005

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