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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > ‘Semi-Postals’ For Charity

Sometimes countries pick up good ideas from one another. In this holiday time of giving it is appropriate to look at the Charitable institution known as “semi­postals,” while h have flourished for decades in many European countries.

Semi-postal started in Holland, Belgium and Switzerland before World War I. They are colorfully designed postage stamps bearing two numbers separated by a plus sign. The first number is the price of the stamp and the other figure is the surcharge for welfare, charitable and educational purposes. Citizens who want to support the designated charity can voluntarily choose to buy these special stamps. It is a convenient (form of popular fund-raising.

Some examples of semi-postal charitable giving will provide an idea of their breadth. Belgium issued these stamps early this century to raise funds against tuberculosis. Holland has regularly issued stamps to benefit child welfare programs. Another set of Dutch semi-postals are called the “summer stamps,” the proceeds of which go to a foundation that distributes grants for cultural activities. Once every five years, a special Red Cross stamp is issued. A recent stamp surcharge was designated for the 1980 Olympic Games for the Handicapped.

Costs for processing semi-postals usually are deducted from the charitable proceeds. People or groups can petition the director general of the Dutch Postal Service to issue a special stamp with a sur­charge. In order to raise more voluntary contributions in this manner, the beneficiary organization should be well-organized to publicize the semi-postal and its purpose. The media often report the issuance of a new semi-postal, thus giving the particular charitable cause greater currency.

Stamp collectors find semi-postals and their ex­traordinary artwork a great attraction, particularly those from Denmark, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

West Germany and West Berlin issue annual semi­postals for the benefit of the Federal Working Association of Free Welfare Work, which helps needy workers. These stamps depict plants which are threatened with extinction.

By now, you may be wondering why we do not have semi-portals in the United States. The U.S. Postal Service certainly knows all about the semi-postal experience in Europe. According to the service, Americans write letters almost every week suggesting a distinctive semi-postal program. They are all rejected. The official Postal Service line is negative and the reason given is that it would be too much bother deciding which charities or good causes would be beneficiaries of these stamps. But these problems have been dealt with in European countries through suitable procedures. Basically, what the Postal Service and Postmaster General William Bolger are saying is that they don’t want to be bothered.

Reidar Norby of the National Museum of American History said this about the prospects of such stamps being printed in the United States: “My opinion is you’ll be pushing water uphill and I’m not sure you’d ever get to the top.” Norby, you’ve just laid down a challenge. Isn’t Ronald Reagan urging Americans to give more to charity and doesn’t he appoint the Postal Service’s board of directors?

Here is a suggestion designed to get the Postal Service’s attention on semi-postals. President Reagan could urge that the first semi-postal program be a voluntary giving effort to a citizens’ Postal Service reform association whose members would be donors with semi-postal purchases exceeding $5. Then Bolger and his associates might drop their stonewalling and consider this long-successful overseas idea in our country.