Service of Charity III

November 18th, 2013

Categories: Charity


I’ve covered the dark side of this topic—you could call it a gift that keeps on giving–countless times from gorilla charity fundraising and scare tactics to people who support charities for all the wrong reasons. I’ve written about retailers who ask customers to buy products thereby benefiting twice: They increase sales and look saintly by giving away what they’ve collected and not paid for.

Last week when I reached for my checkbook to send money to help the victims of the typhoon in the Philippines, I hesitated. Should I instead risk sending cash in an envelope without a return address so that I don’t get a pile of subsequent requests for donations from the charity? It infuriates me to see the charity spend in paper and postage even five cents of the amount I donated for a specific cause.

StopI mentioned this to a colleague who has directed major marketing and fundraising initiatives for world-class charities. She said that I should look for the tiny type at the bottom of printed pieces that show how to opt out of receiving future missives. If there is nothing there, she advised, get in touch with the charity and demand that it take you off their list. “It takes time but can be done,” she said.

Why, I asked, do they send so very many requests when I’ve never sent in a penny after the first amount—at least until the next crisis? “A charity never knows when it might get a hit. In one instance, I heard of a donor who gave modest amounts over the period of a year–$10-$20–for years. When she died, she left that charity over $1 million.”

The marketing expert mentioned “permission marketing” where marketers ask for consent before sending something else, whether a newsletter or catalog or in this case additional ask letters. The concept works online–where it started. I don’t think that it’s as pertinent to printed outreach because it takes longer for the recipient to opt out than a click on a computer or smartphone.

phonebankIn many instances it isn’t the charity itself that harasses but a company that the charity hires to fundraise. These consultants with phone banks have only one thing in mind: To add to the amount they collect, the charity be damned. A friend and her mother send their donations to a well known children’s hospital during the week each year when a benefactor doubles the amount of money collected. Her mother got a call asking her to donate $19/month and she explained, several times, that if she did that instead the hospital would actually get less. Clearly the caller didn’t care and kept pushing for her to commit to the monthly amount. She hung up.

Can you share ways in which you’ve unhitched yourself from a charity’s donor list or do you send in money each time or toss the missives? Do you have any recent charity-related tales to tell–some positive I hope?

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6 Responses to “Service of Charity III”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    A neighbor reported spending over a year writing to charities and other soliciting organizations with the eventual result of no longer being bothered. Not everyone has such time or incentive to follow suit. I just keep throwing things out.

    One particularly aggressive outfit, “Smile Train” attempts to bully money out of its potential victims by promising not to be heard from again upon receipt of one donation. After several years of fruitless pestering, I received a huge packet containing “free gifts” and an honor certificate for my generosity – all of which, other than the handy notepad, hit the trash. I hope ongoing non response means they will give up, but am not counting on it.

    One way to put a stop to this onslaught is to hold ones breath and ignore unwelcome solicitations. A caller ID device detects such phone calls, and one is spared pleas by simply not answering.

    I will not respond directly to the latest disaster. Local stores often collect anonymous donations which are used to help out, so donors are spared hearing from one more bothersome entity.

    Writing “please do not share my name” in block letters on the donation sheet, sometimes works.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I, too, fill the trash with these missives. I admire your neighbor though like you can think of a million other things to do before taking the time for such a campaign. I wonder if your neighbor might start a business to do this for others….though it’s cheaper simply to toss.

    How annoying that the charity didn’t keep to its promise of never again bothering you. Grump. Your idea of using local stores to donate is great for small amounts. Might not work as well for folks who give a bunch of money as they need some kind of proof if they declare donations for tax purposes.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Perhaps I was not clear. I never gave a red cent to the bothersome charity, so it didn’t welch on its promise – it merely escalated its demand for money by sending “gifts.” In doing so, it also lavished donations on all but the children they say they are trying to help.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I misread…I suppose like any business the charity marketers do what works. If spending money on pads and gifts brings in money, that’s what they’ll do. I agree that the money would be better spent on the children, but if they spend $1 million on pads that brings in $5 million from people who feel guilty receiving such a “gift”….they are on to something. I hope that is the formula, otherwise the children lose, the marketer keeps his/her job and the paper manufacturer and printer also win.

  5. Simon Carr Said:

    I remember from my early teens, seemingly endless dinner table discussion about the equally endless troubles of a hospital on whose board my mother served. (“Le plus ca change…”) Much later, I interviewed with a major world wide charity for a senior position. (Its head of personnel was a former colleague.) I have also served on not-for-profit boards for many years. I know a bit about charities, and I am afraid that brings the cynic out in me.

    As a consequence, I only give to charities named by deceased friends in their death notices; to one or two smaller single purpose entities, which I know are well run and no nonsense, and in special situations where the financial benefit to me is greater than the cost of my gift.

    I find the “junk mail” aspect of money raising as unsavoury as you do, but nothing will be done about it until you change the tax laws and get rid of the charitable tax deduction. If you return “giving” to true charity, instead of a way to worm your way out of tax paying, you’ll be amazed how quickly the junk mail and other nonsense disappears. Charities won’t be able to afford to be sloppy and bureaucratic.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I think your giving strategy appears to be sound. Trouble is if five people die a year, be it a friend, family member or the family member of a friend, and each names a different charity, you’ll soon go bankrupt between all the donations and cost of garbage removal not to speak of the piles of annoying junk mail/email entering your various mailboxes.

    I don’t get the feeling that someone who sends in $25 in response to receiving a pad of paper with their name printed at the top is looking for a tax dodge. I speak on a hunch that these attempts to generate donations is to get the bottom feeders, the small potatoes that add up to $millions because there are so many of them.

    Totally different strategies and teams go after the big bucks: Offers of prestigious board positions, naming awards and scholarships after the donor, giving donors special awards and so forth.

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