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Iowa’s license plate decal program helps promote non-profit groups

10/13/2017

VFw decalIowa’s non-profit organizations have a new, inexpensive way to promote themselves using Iowa’s license plates. Iowa law changes that took effect earlier this year now allow the Iowa Department of Transportation to produce license plates with a space for a decal promoting a non-profit organization.

For years groups have been able to apply for what is known as an “emblem” license plate. Currently, we have approximately 40 emblem plates in production, and it can be difficult for county treasurer’s offices, especially in smaller counties, to manage the inventory for all the different license plate variations.

“The decal plate option will make inventory management easier for county treasurers and make it easier for non-profit groups to get their message out,” said LaVonne Short of the Iowa DOT’s Office of Vehicle & Motor Carrier Services, “The application process for a group to get an emblem plate required 500 paid applications before the plate would be produced. Over the years we’ve had dozens of groups qualified for an emblem plate, but they couldn’t muster up 500 paid applications within the year time frame allowed.”

The solution comes in the form of a “decal” plate. The Iowa Legislature amended Iowa law to end the emblem plate program and allow us to produce license plates with an area left blank to allow for a decal to be applied.

LaVonne Short
LaVonne Short with a post of all Iowa DOT license plate designs.

“The new plates open up a lot of possibilities for non-profit groups,” said Short. “There is still an application process and a group must prove 501(c) 3 non-profit status from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office in order to be eligible.” The non-profit is responsible for designing and producing their own decal to place on the plate.  A sample of the proposed 3 by 3.5-inch decal artwork must be submitted to us. Once approved, the image of the decal will be placed on our website as approved artwork, but that’s where our involvement ends. The non-profit group is responsible to produce and distribute the decals.

Since there is no minimum paid license plate ordering requirement, smaller non-profits will be able to take advantage of the program and it can be used as a fundraising opportunity. Short said, “The first approved decal is from the Veterans of Foreign Wars. They indicated on their application that they will sell the decals for $20, which is allowable under the updated law.”


New and old decal plate designsDrivers who want to display a decal simply need to exchange their current plates for a set of decal plates at their county treasurer’s office and pay a $5 fee.  Short said, “The decals provide 
a lot of flexibility. A customer can apply one decal on the front license plate and another on the back if they choose. You can change decals either by placing one over another or by getting another set of replacement plates for $5 if you want to start over with clean plates for new decals.”

Short said, “The new plate not only gives non-profit groups a new way to promote themselves, it gives customers an easy way to express their support for various groups. It also makes it easier and more cost-effective to manage license plate inventory.”

Short says the decal plates are only available on the standard issue license plate format, but like any standard-issue plate, the decal plates can be ordered with personalization,” she said. There is an additional charge of $25 for personalization and a $5 fee when the plate is renewed.”

So what happens if someone places an unapproved decal on a license plate? Short said, “Iowa Code section 321.34(13) only allows decals that have been approved by the Iowa DOT. If law enforcement sees a plate with an unapproved decal, the owner may be issued a citation.”

Decal plates are on the current standard blue and white plate background. The department is in the process of releasing a new standard plate design that was chosen at the Iowa State Fair, which should be available sometime in 2018. Once that design is in production, it will replace the blue and white design as the background for the decal plates.

If you are part of a non-profit group and want to find out more about the decal program, go to https://iowadot.gov/mvd/vehicleregistration/plates#decal


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Iowa highway in the evening