31 December 2012

The Cranky Philanthropist

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:

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?


De said...

You get bonus points for follow-through. I often take the long walk up the driveway from the mailbox shaking my head about solicitations and catalogs, but I have never spent the time to deal with reducing the junk. I'm only a crank in training.

Swistle said...

This is a great idea. We would like to support PBS, but when we did, they sent us so much mail we could not even believe it. Furthermore, starting about three months after our membership donation, they started sending deceptive letters saying our membership was up for renewal and/or implying it was on the verge of expiring. We stopped donating to them---though with a heartfelt letter imploring them to knock that crap off, because we really would LIKE to give them the money. (We just don't want to see all of that money spent on asking us for more money.) We got back a very nice letter from someone saying she would feel the same way (and, unfortunately, that there was nothing she could do about it).

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Wouldn't you be great handling charitable contributions for a large foundation?

YourFireAnt said...

What is the NRDC?

Magpie said...

NRDC is the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Emily said...

Earth Justice is our charity of choice.

Anonymous said...

Love your system.

Wrath Of Mom said...


Four years ago I sent a $100 donation to the Knowledge Network (my province's versions of PBS). I still get "begging" mail and phone calls despite having told them that I no longer own a tv. The other one that annoys me is USC Canada. Not merely satisfied with a donation I made to them ONE TIME in 2005, they send me letters and gifts of seed packets several times a year. The seed packets drive me batty because it's such an over the top manipulative waste of money.

Erm. Obviously you've touched a nerve with me.

I've done a similar experiment with magazine subscriptions by signing up for different ones using false names. It's easy to then track back who sold my name. The worst offended: Family Fun magazine.

julochka said...

it is very ambitious to keep all of that mail for a whole year. and i think it's awesome that you sit down as a family and decide who is worthy. you make me want to do more good in the world and hey, now i have some leads on who to help!

anna said...

I'm such a crank I rarely give to any organizations at all - I just do what I think of as "direct help" to individuals or families I know are having a hard time for one reason or another.

I used to do direct mail for a large - and very good all things considered - non-profit and pretty much never lived down putting 2 cents more postage than needed on a large mailing, so like ex-waitresses who leave huge tips, I do try and see things from the direct mail manager's point of view - it's a hard job to do and make everyone happy.

Quadelle said...

It was interesting to read how you go about your giving - thanks for sharing because I've picked up a few good ideas!

I'm also wary of non-stop marketing and solicitation, but had never thought to track it so closely.