A year ago, after sending out a raft of little charitable contributions at the end of 2011, each with its own little admonition, please do not solicit more than once a year, please do not sell or rent my name, I decided to conduct a small experiment. For the whole of 2012, I kept every piece of mail that came in asking for money - snail mail, not email. By the middle of December, it amounted to a goodly boxful. I sorted it, tallied it, and - I'm sorry to report - was forced to add a few charities to the naughty list.
Most organizations are either sophisticated enough to flag their database in such a way that they did not, in fact, send out multiple solicitations. Others are so unsophisticated that I never get, nor expect to get, more than one or two a year - the local volunteer fire department comes to mind.
After the great sorting, we sat down to discuss the various solicitations, en famille. Some were rejected:
- Boys & Girls Club: "I don't swim there anymore."
- Care: Seven solicitations in one calendar year is too many, especially since we've never given to you.
- The local Police Benevolent Association: "They can always ask the Girl Scouts to fundraise for them." (Um, huh? Don't ask me, I'm just reporting what the nine year old said.)
Some were newly added to the list:
- American Museum of Fly Fishing: "We have to do that because of Daddy", who does like fly fishing but doesn't get to do it much at all.
- Fair Girls: They work to prevent the exploitation of girls worldwide and Nick Kristof told me about them.
- EarthJustice: mostly because I liked their tag line about the earth needing a good lawyer (and Charity Navigator gave them 4 stars).
- Dr. Hawa Abdi (via Vital Voices): Dr. Abdi runs a hospital, school and refugee camp in Somalia, and and Nick Kristof told me about her too.
In the end, we sent contributions to a mixed bag of local organizations (the afore-mentioned fire department, the local historical society, the day care center the girl attended) and bigger ones (Planned Parenthood, Unicef, International Rescue Committee), domestic and international.
And, because I am a crank, I sent notes - without contributions - to four organizations that we've supported in the past, because they really irritated me.
- The NRDC sent us ten pieces of mail in 11 and a half months. Six of them included a return envelope with a live stamp - 45 cents right there in each solicitation! I used one of those envelopes to ask them to take me off their list, and had no compunctions about readdressing the remaining five to use to give to small charities who didn't waste their money giving me a stamp.
- Doctors without Borders sent us six pieces of mail, and they get extra demerits because not one of their envelopes included a return address, which is a sneaky way of getting someone to open your envelope in the first place.
- Partners In Health sent us five pieces of mail, three too many. (Even though I asked for only one solicitation a year, two doesn't offend my sensibilities hugely because, well, I'm not that rigid, and anyway, the lists do get prepped in advance.)
- Riverkeeper sent us four pieces of mail - too much mail, compounded by the fatal error of not having thanked us for last year's gift.
When I ask that a charity only solicit us once a year, I mean it. I don't want paper and stamps and time wasted on asking me for money; I want the money spent on the cause that I'm supporting. It's simple, really. It's all about stewardship.
You can, though, be sure that I'll keep opening the envelopes from the NRDC. I mean, you can always use a nice first class stamp to pay some bill or another, right?