Mail-in Sweepstakes Basics

Mail-in Sweepstakes BasicsI have been getting more and more questions about entering sweepstakes through the mail. Mail-in sweepstakes are still a good choice for entering sweepstakes. And as stamp prices go up and more companies put their sweepstakes online, entering any mail-in sweepstakes will have better odds more now than every before.

I figure some of my readers probably don’t know some of the basics about entering mail-in sweepstakes so instead of answer each question I thought I would write an article to cover most topics and hopefully answer most questions. If you still have questions after reading this article feel free to leave a comment below or send me an email.

No Mechanically Reproduced Entries Allowed

When you see a line like this in the official rules, “no Mechanically reproduced entries allowed”, they are talking about making up one entry and then photocopying it or reproducing it in any other way besides hand writing each one individually. This does not mean you can’t pay someone to write your name, address, phone, email, etc. on the papers or cards. There are actually hand writing services in the “sweepstakes world” where a person will charge you a certain amount of money to fill out your mail-in entries for you.

What is a #10 Envelope?

A #10 envelope is considered a standard business-size envelope. You can buy a box of them at any grocery, drug, or office supply store. You will also find them at all big box (Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target, etc.) stores. They measure 4-1/8″ x 9-1/2″ in size and are usually white. When a sweepstakes tells you in the official rules to use a #10 envelope this is what they are talking about. You will probably get disqualified if you use something else. Most likely they want all of the envelopes to be the same size so they can stack them and organize them in bins.

Handwritten Entries/Envelopes

When a sweepstakes tells you in the official rules that you entry must be hand written they are talking about the paper or card you write your name, address, phone, etc. on. Sometimes they will also tell you to hand-print your envelope too. This usually means you are to hand-print the address you are sending the entry to and not your return address. For the return address I use a stamp and sometimes use those free return address labels that non-profit companies send to me for my return address. There is no way to know if that will disqualify you but in my opinion your return address is not part of your entry.

Even though a sweepstakes might not tell you to hand-print the address you are sending the sweepstakes to I suggest you do it just in case. Once again, there is no proof one way or the other if printed the envelopes on a printer would disqualify you. If they indicate the envelope must be hand-printed then yes, it would disqualify you if you print it.

Filling out the Envelope Correctly

Even though you can use a return address label or stamp some people still leave that off. There has been much discussion on this topic over the years and no one has ever come to a definitive conclusion as to whether you are required to put a return address on your envelope. Logically the only reason you would need it would be to have your entry come back to you if the sweepstakes mailbox got closed for some reason. That would alert you to the fact that the sweepstakes is over and maybe you sent your entry too late or something else is wrong with the address. However, I have seen some official rules state that if there is no legible return address you entry will be disqualified so always read the rules carefully.

This is what you might read in the official rules concerning a return address. Not every company or judging agency puts it in there. I think you should put a return address on all envelopes just to be safe. The return address labels you get from non-profit organizations should be fine.

From some official rules I found:

Mail received without a verifiable and legible return address may not be accepted at Sponsor’s sole discretion.

If a sweepstakes requires that you put a date, your state, or some other information on the envelope make sure you include it. Sometimes national sweepstakes are grouped by state or region and entries from a certain state or region are put together so they need that information written clearly on the envelope to help them sort them faster. Other times they want you to put a date you want your entry to be included in a specific daily drawing. All of this varies so once again, read the rules.

Write the sweepstakes address exactly as it is given in the official rules. If they put commas in between the lines do not include the commas. They are just doing that for the official rules. You need to put it similar to this:

Name of Sweepstakes
Street Address
City, State, Zip

Write Neatly and Legibly

Always print legibly. Do not write in cursive if at all possible. Try to remember what you did in kindergarten and make your printing straight and neat. If they can’t read your envelope or entry you may lose out on a prize. Spell words correctly and when you fill out your phone number always include your area code.

More examples of legibility required and other things concerning mailing an entry.

…is not responsible for late, lost, stolen, damaged, mutilated, separated, incomplete, illegible, postage due, or misdirected game piece requests, entries or mail.

What is a 3 x 5 paper?

A paper is not a card. You should not use an index card when they ask for a paper. You can buy packs of 3 x 5 papers at Staples and other office supplies stores. Or, cut them yourself but make sure they measures 3″ x 5″. I suggest you use papers with no decoration or lines and they should be white if at all possible. Color or design is not going to help your entry get picked.

A 3 x 5 paper ALWAYS gets mailed inside of envelope.

What is a 3 x 5 card?

Mail-in Sweepstakes BasicsA card is not a paper. Index cards work well for 3 x 5 cards used for entries. I suggest you do not get ones with color or lines. Wal-Mart, other big box stores, and office supplies stores are the best places to get unlined, white index cards. Remember, color or design is not going to help your entry get picked.

A 3 x 5 card ALWAYS gets mailed inside of envelope. A 3 x 5 card is not considered a postcard as it is too small to go through the postal service (see below).

How to Fill Out an Entry Properly

I usually fill my information out on the long side of the paper or card. Take a look at the official rules for the sweepstakes you are entering and see what they would like you to include on your entry. If they want your name they want your first and last name. Address is your street address, city, state and zip code. Many times sweepstakes will not accept PO Box addresses so read the rules. I believe PMB address are not considered PO Box addresses.

When they ask for a telephone number you need to include the area code. You can write it in a multiple of ways. Pick the one you like the best.

  • (000) 000-0000
  • 000-000-0000

Your birthdate is usually written like this: 00/00/0000 or 00/00/00

Make sure to write out your entire email address like this: [email protected] using the @ symbol and do not put AT or [AT] like you might if you were entering a blog giveaway.

Sometimes you are required to write a sentence that is given in the official rules. You will need to write smaller to get all of your information on the paper or card. You can put that sentence on the other side if you don’t have enough room.

What Not to Put on the Envelope

DO NOT add anything “cute” to the address. It will NOT help your entry to get picked. Example:

Pick Me Name of Sweepstakes
Street Address
City, State, Zip

Decorating Envelopes

Once again, this has been a over debated topic since I have been entering sweepstakes. I used to decorate envelopes with markers, stickers and clip art. It was fun and I had the time. I really do not think it helped my entry to get picked whatsoever. However, if you are sending an entry to a local giveaway in your town or state or even a regional office it might help because those entries will more than likely be picked by someone in their office. Big national sweepstakes are becoming automated. Entries are put in bins and given a number or put in a computer database so you envelope will have no bearing on the drawing. That is why you see some official rules stating that they want #10 envelopes. If you enjoy decorating envelopes then go ahead and do it. Personally, I would suggest that the time it takes to decorate the envelope is better spent filling out more entries but I think it all depends on how much free time you have. When I was decorating envelopes I had lots of free time and now I can barely get entries sent out in the mail.

How Mail-in Entries are Drawn

Every company is going to hold the drawing they way they want so there is no way to know how each company will do it but here are some ways drawings are held.

Mail-in Sweepstakes Basics, Bingo SpinnerEntries come in and are put in bins. Each entry is given a number and the bin is given a number. When it is time for the drawing the computer or some other method picks the bin number and envelope number. The winner(s) is based on the envelope that matches the number in that bin.

Entries come in and are put in large bags. When it is time for the drawing someone grabs a handful of envelopes and puts them in a large container or maybe one of those spinners you see when you go to Bingo. A blindfolded person (sometimes wearing gloves) picks out envelopes, one at a time until all winners are chosen.

Entries come in and computer operators manually enter the entrants data into a computer database program. Each entry is then given a random number through that program. A random number generator picks the winning numbers that correspond with the names in the database.

This is just a handful of ways sweepstakes drawings are held.

Postcard Entries

Some mail-in sweepstakes require that you send your entry using a postcard. Remember, sending a postcard through the mail is cheaper. A postcard stamp costs 28ยข (03/09). However, if your postcard is larger than 5″ x 7″ it will require a first class stamp instead.

Standard postcard sizes include:

  • USPS standard size: 4-1/4″ x 6″
  • Smallest size that can go through the postal system: 3-1/2″ x 5″
  • Common postcard size sold in stores: 4-1/2″ x 6-1/2″

If a sweepstakes tells you to send in a postcard that is 3″ x 5″ in size you have two options. This size cannot go through the postal system because it is too small and will be rejected. You can put your 3″ x 5″ card in an envelope and mail it in or use another size like a 3-1/2″ x 5″ which is acceptable.

postcard entries for sweepstakesWhen you enter using a postcard I suggest that you turn your postcard to the right so that the short side is facing up. Then write your name, address, telephone, and whatever else they require on that short side. When you turn your postcard back around to write the mailing address your information should appear sideways on the postcard.

The reason I write the info this way is so that the postcard does not have the chance of getting returned to me. If you write your address at the top left where you would usually put the message it has a chance of getting sent back to you if the post office machines read it incorrectly. That has happened to me a few times so now I turn my postcard and write my info sideways. You can also turn your postcard upside down and write it that way.

You might want to read more about postcard entries in the article I wrote entitled, Tips for Postcard Entries in Mail-in Sweeps

Sealed Envelopes

I have been seeing this line more and more in the official rules, “all mail-in entries, including addressing, must be hand written, mailed separately in a sealed envelope and have sufficient postage” because companies are getting empty envelopes sent to them or getting them sent with no postage. I put a piece of tape over the point on the back of the envelope for every entry I send out. Sometimes the glue on the envelope fails and you don’t want the judging agency to receive an envelope from you that is empty.

When To Mail Sweepstakes Entries

There are several schools of thought when it comes to when you should mail your entries out. Some seem to think that sending them all at once near the end of the sweepstakes is good while others say to space out your entries over the life of the sweepstakes. I tend to send mine about 3 weeks before the sweepstakes is over, with 2 or 3 days in between each entry. I really don’t think it matters and this is another subject that has been debated to death. Sometimes it depends on how the entries are drawn. If they are going in mailbags with some entries being picked to go in that spinner or larger container then yes, space your entries out so you can get entries in as many mailbags as possible. If they are all going in a computer database it doesn’t really matter. Since there is no way you can know how winners are picked you just need to come up with a system that works for you.

How Many Entries to Send

I’d say this is the topic that is debated the most when it comes to sweepstakes. Should you enter 1 time, 10 times, or 100 times? Some people enter 1,000 times for a sweepstakes. Of course, the first thing to consider is the cost of the stamps. If the lower prizes are worth $10 do you want to spend almost that much to send out 10 or 20 entries? I have seen sweepstakes where someone entered once and someone entered 1,000 times and neither won. Another sweepstakes and they both won. Of course, the more entries would seem to indicate the better a chance you have of winning a prize. It is a personal thing that you have to decide for yourself.

How many entries to put in an envelope

Unless a sweepstakes specifically states that you can put more entries into one envelope the standard amount is one entry per envelope. If you put more entries into an envelope you may have all of them disqualified. Yes, it costs a lot more for stamps to send, for example, 50 entries into 50 individual envelopes versus putting 50 entries all in one envelope but you HAVE to send them individually if you don’t want to be disqualified and you want them to count towards winning. If you are allowed to send multiple entries in one envelope the official rules will specifically state that.

Planning Ahead

Some sweepers I know have entries written out for six months and have them all organized in a box or drawer. I used to be more like this when I was sending out 10 to 20 entries a day. You don’t have to go to that extreme to plan ahead with your mail-in entries.

If you are working on a few sweepstakes, and you have the time, write out all of the entries you are going to be sending out and then write the dates that you want to mail them out on where the stamp goes. That way the stamp will cover the writing when you are ready to mail them. Then put them in order based on the dates. If you work on enough sweepstakes you will then have a whole stack that you can put in a box. Each day you just go to your stash and mail out the ones with today’s date.

As I think of other things concerning mail-in sweepstakes I will add them to this article. You can always click on the Article Index at the top of the screen under Teach Me How to find it again.

Disclosure: this sweepstakes listing may contain an affiliate or tracking link but we do not use referral links. Read about our policies for more details.

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  1. Wendy thanks for this valueable information.
    I just started doing mail-in-sweeps and this is going to help me and your readers.

  2. Anonymous says

    I read somewhere of contest info and they said if the envelope size is not given then use colored large envelopes and scribble colored markings on the back. I watched a TV show pick a winner. They had a huge amount of envelopes fall out of a container. All 5 winners were the few colored envelopes out of a sea of white.

  3. It all depends on how the drawing is done. If it is done similar to some of the ways I mentioned above, ie., random computer generated number, etc. then the envelope won’t matter. You don’t know how it will be done because each agency is going to do it the way they want. So, if you want to save time use regular envelopes. If you like decorating envelopes and have the time go for it.

  4. I bet the "green" community really likes to see that sweepstakes are still done on paper.

  5. I have a question. I just bought 3 x 5 paper scratch pads at a leading office supply store. The pieces of paper actually measure 3 x 4 7/8 (it's actually just a tad over 4 7/8). Is this close enough? I'm really annoyed because the whole reason I bought this big pack was to enter mail-in sweeps…I hope this is close enough, but what do you think Wendy? Are they going to measure these pieces of paper that well??

  6. Julie,

    Does it say 3" x 5" on the package? If so it should be fine.

  7. catherine.hendricks says

    What do you think about the sweepstakes that are online and/or you can do mail in? What is the benfit of mail in when online is an option?

  8. Catherine,

    Not all online sweeps that have a mail-in option are worth it. You have to look at each sweepstakes rules to see if it is worth it. It might be worth it if you can only play online and need a unique code and have to buy a product to play online but you could mail an entry for free.

  9. it's a really nice blog thanks for add my comment..

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  10. If the rules don't state an envelope size, which size is best to use for the mail in sweeps? I tend to always use #10 size, but sometimes feel those are too large for the small 3×5 card and/or paper. Just want to double-check if I'm doing this process correctly. Thank you Wendy!

  11. Wendy (Sweetie) says

    #10 envelopes are fine to anytime. That is why many sweeps specify that size because it is a standard size that is used regularly in business. But, if you don't have #10 envelopes then use whatever you have on hand if they don't specify a size.

  12. Wendy(Sweetie):
    What is your idea on this: Our state has a fundraiser contest going on and they are selling raffle tickets with prizes. The raffle tickets are $99 a piece. The grand prize is a condo, car, cash, trip and early bird cash winner. Since this is a local contest, do you think I should consider this?


  13. Wendy (Sweetie) says

    It depends on if you want to spend that much. You could win but then you could lose and that is a lot of money to spend on one entry. Remember, it's a raffle and not a sweepstakes so you are spending money to enter. I have entered raffles but I would never pay that much to enter. It's like gambling so there is a huge risk. It's up to you though.

  14. OK this may be a stupid question, but here goes. When a sweeps asks for a lot of different information, should I put identifiers in front of each item? For example when it asks for daytime phone, nighttime phone, date of birth, etc, etc should I put
    Daytime phone:
    Nighttime phone:
    Date of birth:


    • I usually put D/E: 000-000-0000 and use the same phone number. Or if I want to put different numbers I put, D: 000-000-0000 E: 000-000-0000 – all one one line. Then I put DOB: 00/00/0000 on another line for the birthdate

  15. Tom Williams says

    Yes, I have a question about “mail-ins”. I enter Sweepstakes that have prizes of a minimum of $100 and up. I have noticed that for these types of SS on the low side the number of entrants is in the tens of thousands of entrants and on the high side it can go up to billions for worldwide SS with huge prizes. These are equivalent to the odds of winning lottery games like Fantasy Five or Mega Millions. In the old days, before the Internet, your chances were much, much better when you had to find out about SS in other ways. I notice that when the SS indicate “without a purchase”, the odds are better. However, if the SS accepts “mail-ins”, texts, online entries and other types of entries, I just wonder if it is even worth doing. I realize that it is a numbers game. In the past three months, I have probably mailed in 500 entries and entered 1,500 online and haven’t won anything. I also realize that it usually takes two to three months to find out if you have won anything.

    What are your thoughts?

    • I rarely enter mail-in sweeps but right now I have a couple going. The only time to enter a mail-in sweepstakes is if it is open only to your state, a small group of states, or it is the only way to enter the sweepstakes that does not require a purchase. You are right about those odds. Focus on sweepstakes that are not as highly advertised and you have a better chance of winning. That is why I setup Sweeties Secret Sweeps to post local sweepstakes for individual states. We do the work so you don’t have to

  16. Kristopher says

    Hello. I have a question about a mail in sweepstakes I am participating in. The sweepstakes runs over my birthday and asks for my age. I am planning on mailing them out over the length of the contest. What age should I put on my entries? My current age or my next age? Sorry if this is confusing!

  17. Michelle says

    If a sweepstakes has a limit of 1 entry per day, can I mail it out on Saturday and Sunday if there is postal service? Or do they only take them on weekdays? I plan on mailing everyday but will they disqualify them if they get 2 or 3 together even though the p.o. has stamped it on separate dates?

  18. I have a question regarding the use of quotation marks. When I do my mail in sweeps entries some of them ask the sweeper to put the name of the particular sweepstakes on the index card; since they often put the title of the sweeps in quotation marks I do to on any sweeps that does so in the rules. Is this the right thing to do and does it even matter either way?

  19. Michelle Albert says

    Would it be best to buy decorated envelopes? Where is the best place to buy them?

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