Every now and again someone asks "How do we set up a post in our area?". This chapter tries to address the various problems and opportunities that may be faced.
To quote from the Act enabling these posts to operate - "Such mail can only be carried 'for the purposes of raising funds for charitable purposes' during the period from 25th November to 1st January. A 'Christmas card' is defined as 'a document which conveys a greeting appropriate to the seasons of Christmas and the New Year (or either of them) and no other communication', and a 'Charity' is defined as 'any body of persons or trust established for charitable purposes only'.
The Scout Association has published a leaflet which you can download that covers basic responsibilities and general advice. The rest of this chapter is based upon actual experience of the problems and opportunities offered to you.
You have a simple choice - do you use stamps or just postmark the envelopes with a suitable distinguishing mark?
If you decide upon stamps then there are several ways in which you can produce a usable format :-
1 - Get them printed by a local printer - it's not easy to find a printer who can perforate fully. The cost varies depending upon print quantities but, as an example, the stamps produced for Bewdley & Cleobury cost about 1p each - 25,000 (500 sheets of 50) in full colour costing aroung £260.
2 - Use a photocopier and gummed paper or self-adhesive labels - again it's not easy to find perforated paper that you can use. Also you only get a single colour, usually black, unless you pay for the use of a full-colour photocopier - very expensive.
3 - Print them yourself on a colour printer - make sure that the ink is not water soluble, customers are not impressed if the rain washes the stamp designs away!
If you decide on a method that does not involve perforated stamps than you need to consider the problems any sellers may have by needing scissors to separate stamps at the point of sale. One alternative is to precut the sheets into strips or blocks and sell in those quantities rather than individually. eg Kendal print theirs in imperforate sheetlets of 12 and sell them by the sheet.
Once you choose stamps there is one other consideration - do you change the designs each year or possibly save money by having a large quantity printed that will last for several years? One minor advantage of the 'new each year' approach - you can produce 'First Day covers' which can be sold at a premium. Those produced for Bewdley & Cleobury have 5 x 10p stamps but sell for £1.50 each (the envelopes are quite cheaply produced on an ink-jet printer).
If you don't want to use stamps then you can use any rubber stamp available to frank the cards as they pass through your hands. This approach does make it more difficult to have secure publically available letter-boxes as you would be asking people to drop in their cards and the money. Sadly that money might attract unwanted attention. It is better to have cards and money handed to a person rather than just put in a box. The Exeter Scout District website gives many details about how their postmark-only postal service works. Their appendices give a few suggested stationery ideas and some statistics about their activities.
Specially designed rubber stamps can be quite economical at between £5 and £15 each and are a good idea as they ensure the recipients actually know that you delivered their cards for them.
Sponsorship is not always easy to get, but if local firms are prepared to help you can cover all your expenses - for example, the 5 local companies mentioned on the Bewdley & Cleobury stamps contribute enough to pay the printing costs for the stamps and the First Day covers. Another reason to change the stamp designs each year as it would be a bit much to ask a firm to commit to the cost of several year's printing all at once.
It is very important to clearly specify the area over which you intend to provide the postal service. The last thing you want is customers posting cards for distant places in your letter box. To back up this point, also include a disclaimer in any publicity stating that cards for out-of-area destinations will not be delivered but will be held by the Post organisers for some specific time so that the senders can reclaim them.
Indicate a starting date and a date (and time?) of the last collection. Many existing posts only do one delivery after all the cards have been collected in. This should be clearly specified in posters or leaflets so that customers are not writing invitations in their cards that won't get delivered until after the event to which they were inviting their friends. Don't promise regular deliveries through the operating period unless you are very sure that you can provide such a service.
The easiest way is to provide letter-boxes in (secure!) public places, eg local shops or pubs, where your customers may post their cards at a time convenient to them. These letter-boxes can be simple cardboard boxes with a slot cut in the top and your details clearly printed on the sides - include your Post's name, a contact address, the delivery area details and the last posting date as a minimum. It should be noted that the Post Office HQ will NOT allow even a local grocer's shop with a Post Office counter to have one of your collecting boxes as well.
There are two main options :-
1 - through your members and their families.
2 - through the local shops and pubs that have your letter-boxes. Most are happy to sell stamps and usually get quite involved in following the success of the scheme. In Bewdley 29 out of 30 letter-box sites also sell stamps (it is not a good idea to ask financial companies such as banks or building societies as they may have security issues).
Posters and leaflets are both very useful to publicise your postal service. Most shops that have letterboxes will also be happy to put a poster on display for you, as may many other organisations - clubs, libraries, offices etc. An advertising leaflet that you can distribute door to door a few days before you Post begins with details of your Post's name, a contact address, the delivery area details and the last posting date will be very effective. You may be able to get local traders to advertise in your leaflet and then the costs may be partially, or even fully, covered.
It is important to know in advance who will be delivering in each part of the area your Post covers. If you have multiple Units involved, as in places like Sheffield, each one needs to know the limits of their responsibility. If you have produced leaflets for door-to-door distribution then they can be delivered in these areas by the Units that will later deliver the Christmas Cards. Remember that delivering in country areas is more time consuming than town areas and allocate the areas accordingly.
It will always take a bit longer than you expect! A dedicated band of Scout & Guide leaders in Stourport-on-Severn manage to sort about 20,000 cards into their delivery areas in one evening, but they are usually helped by a little pre-sorting done by the people who empty the letter-boxes regularly throughout the period. Once the sort to areas is done the delivering Units need to sort to street and house order before they can get out to deliver them. It's also worth remembering that there are bound to be mis-sorts which need to be passed on to the correct delivery Units. Because of this it is advantageous to have the Unit leaders doing their street & house sorts in the same place as the main sort, and for all to be completed before any batches are taken away.
It is always a good idea to settle the method of distribution of profits between any Districts or Groups participating. As an example, in Bewdley we allocate a fixed percentage of Unit sales back to the Unit and then share the remainder equally between all participating Units, whether Scout, Cubs, Guides, Brownies etc etc. This means that the more stamps they sell, the more money they get. In other posts each Group keeps whatever profits are made in their patch, this presumes that Groups have specific catchment areas they can call their own.
The sale of some of your stamps, first day covers or other cancelled covers to collectors provides you with a easy income, after all you don't have to deliver them one-by-one by hand. There are quite a few collectors spread all over the world who are interested in these stamps and postal service.
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