Non-profits need to be very careful when designing their donor campaigns, invitations, flyers and other direct mail pieces to insure that they meet all U.S.P.S. guidelines and take advantage of the highest postal discounts. The slightest mistake, a piece that is 1/8” too wide, using the wrong color can have disastrous effects on deliverability and cost. These are a few tips for non-profit direct mail.

A few things to keep in mind

Non-Profit Direct Mail

  • Avoid color envelopes that the USPS optical scanner cannot read. Dark green, browns and grays are difficult to read. Contrast is important so the machinery can read the bar-code. No bar-code, no automation discount.
  • Pay attention to size. The word “postcard” means something no larger than 4 ¼” x 6″ to the USPS. A card that measures up to 11 ½” x 6 1/8″ is considered a letter. Anything larger than that is considered a flat. Flats cost more money to mail.
  • Coated stock weighs more and can cost additional dollars to mail


  • On brochures and folded mailers, remember that the mail goes through conveyer belts; the final fold is; any other folded edges to the right. If the fold is on top, 2 tabs are required on the bottom (1″ from each side). If the piece is stitched, the spine must be on the bottom. Remember, the piece has to stay closed to meet automated pricing discounts and to be delivered!
  • Pay attention to dimensions. If a letter exceeds any of the maximum dimensions or weighs more than 3.5 ounces, it is priced at the next shape category. If a letter exceeds ¼” thickness, it would be priced as a large envelope or flat.
  • Watch out for postage surcharges for Non-machinable mail:
    • Pieces that are rigid or contain odd shaped items (keys, coins, pens)
    • The delivery address is not parallel to the longest side of the mail piece (keep this in mind when designing invitations)
    • Pieces enclosed in plastic material
    • Pieces that have clasps, strings, buttons, sealing wax or another type of closure device.
  • Keep in mind the aspect ratio (length divided by height) of the piece. If a piece doesn’t meet the specs, your postage cost can move from a machineable rate to a non-machineable rate.
  • Watch recycled paper – on some papers, the ink tends to bleed and will mess up your bar-coding, resulting in higher postage and delayed delivery.
  • Translucent envelopes – USPS scanners have trouble reading many translucent envelopes. Consider lightening the address/bar-code area to enhance contrast.
  • Punctuation – It looks nice, but the USPS prefers no punctuation on addresses. Sometimes hand-written or ink-jetted addresses make periods look like commas or numbers and mail can get mis-routed.
  • Window envelopes – Test the clearance around the address in window envelopes. Do the “tap test” to make sure there is 1/8” clearance all the way around.
  • Remember the bar-code “clear zone”. Must allow 5/8″ from bottom.
  • Shaped mail – Check out Customized Market Mail – for very funky shaped pieces that are guaranteed deliverable.
  • On standard mail, consider using “Or current resident” to insure delivery. Remember, standard mail is not returned.
  • USPS Informed Delivery – great for visibility and branding. Work with your rep at the Post Office and get on the Informed Delivery train

I strongly suggest that before you finalize your mail piece you run it past your rep at the USPS. Each area has a “Mailpiece Design Analyst” who will review your mailer to insure that you are meeting the USPS requirements and making the most out of your postage dollars!

Take advantage of what the USPS can provide for you in terms of templates and samples to keep in your office to help you design your direct mail pieces to minimize your postage and maximize delivery.