Saturday, November 7, 2015

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime

I can always tell the holiday season is approaching, not only by the displays in every store that appear before Halloween these days, nor by the catalogues that have started to arrive, but by the begging letters from charities. I’m a generous sort of person. I give year-round to some charities. To others I like to give for the holidays. I enjoy sending the Heifer Project money to buy a goat in the name of one of my grandchildren, or paying for the education of a girl with Save the Children. I think it’s good to remind the grandkids how much they have and  how a relatively small amount of money can make a difference in the life of a child elsewhere in the world.

However I have now come to dread collecting the mail. It seems generosity now goes with a stab in the back instead of a thank-you. I send to one charity and they promptly sell my info to a dozen others. Case in point. I gave to a small Indian school. We spend our winters in Arizona and I enjoy getting involved in Native American education and arts. But now suddenly every single Indian school, cultural organization etc is sending me begging letters. I send to one religious charity and get letters from twenty more. And they send me things I don’t want. Calendars and dream catchers and note pads and stickers, thus making me feel bad if I don’t send something in return.

John and I have decided this has to stop. I want to feel that I can give to a charity on my schedule and my terms. Amnesty International lost my sponsorship when they kept calling with a crisis and could I spare another thousand/hundred today. We’ve tried sending letters back unopened, but the mailperson says they just destroy them, not return them. We even tried writing to many of the worst offenders saying we would no longer donate to them if they kept sending out unsolicited stuff and begging letters. But most don’t even listen.

This is rude, and worse than that, it is serious. In England this year we read in the news of a ninety year old woman who threw herself off a bridge because she was being deluged with begging letters and no longer had the funds to send them all money. I can understand how that would affect someone living alone and wanting to help. Shame on them.

Then there are the phone calls. We have tried putting ourselves on the do-not-call this but it doesn’t seem to apply to charities. John now keeps a whistle near the phone for the more persistent ones!

. I want to help, I want to give but I don’t want to feel pressured and harassed. How do you feel about a charity selling your name to others? So if anyone has an answer on how to stop this flood of mail, please share it.


  1. Oh, I do wish I had an answer for you, but we are in the midst of a similar dilemma. We've actually gotten to the point that we no longer answer the phone if the caller ID is an unfamiliar name or number. Knowing that the post office just tosses the unsolicited mail has led us to just tossing it ourselves.
    Like you, we want the grandchildren to understand the importance of giving; we always fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child; we select angels from the angel trees; we buy goats and bricks . . . I think the answer is that we choose where and how we want to give and set the rest aside since we can only do so much.
    But it saddens us to know that, for many organizations, we are simply a name and address to be sold to someone else.

  2. And just think of all the money they are wasting on printing, paper, and postage! Sheesh. No answers from me, either. But I'll tell you those beg letters are half our our recycling load.

  3. I don't answer the phone and I sort my mail standing over the recycle bin. Which is where 99% of it goes. I don't care if there's a real nickel inside or return address stamps. OUT. I never respond to unrequested solicitations. Ever. And yes, isn't there enough garbage in the world? ON THE OTHER HAND boy am I glad I'm not working the other side of this at a worthy charity fighting for visibility.

  4. There are three organizations that I believe in--they seem to spend their money on their stated mission--so when I can, I give to them even if they sell my name. All other solicitations go in the garbage. But we also give locally--local organizations, local fundraisers--like dinners for a family coping with illness, a 'giving' tree at the local grocery, the food drive at the library. But an elderly aunt feels obligated to send something, if, as Rhys says, they send something along with the request for money. I tell her that she didn't ask for the item, and that she gets to choose who/what she supports and when.

  5. Wow, the charities we have give to have never sold our names. I am newly grateful!

  6. There is a way to get off mailing lists, especially catalogs, but also charities.

    It's called Catalog Choice, and they will send your name and request to various mass mailers to stop sending mail to you. It's brilliant, and it works, although once you order online the company you order from takes your order as a tacit request to sell you more stuff, and you may have to post that catalog/whatever again.

    The other way I've reduced junk mail, especially credit card offers, is to use their prepaid postage envelopes. I made up some sticky notes (printed on my printer) that say: "We are not interested in this service. Please remove our name from your mailing list, or forward this to someone who can. Thank you." They open the mail, since they have to pay the postage, and that's key.

    The sheer waste of paper is appalling, isn't it?

    I'm like Hallie. We have several charities we donate to, and if someone calls I cut them off mid-pitch by saying, "We never donate to anyone who solicits by phone or mail. Thank you, but remove our name from your calling list." And I hang up.

  7. We've donated to Doctors Without Borders every month for years, and I don't think they've ever sold our information. Other than that, we donate to local organizations. I sort the mail between the trash and the recycle bin, and unsolicited requests go straight in one or the other. They do NOT make me feel guilty. We repeatedly ask for our names to be taken off lists, which helps for a while but the junk always builds up again.

    As for the phone, I don't answer unfamiliar numbers. Ever. If it's a legit call, they can leave a message. I think it's so interesting that we've come to see unsolicited phone calls as an invasion of privacy--at least I have!

  8. Oh boy, did you hit a sore point. I am ready to remove our land line because we get so many junk calls. Do Not Call doesn't work on charities. When my father-in-law died we started getting their mail sent to us. My mother-in-law has dementia and had been sending money to all sorts of people. And she wondered why she was getting all these magazines! We get so many requests from PACs now addressed to them. It is embarassing, I want to hide when the mailman/woman comes with a load of junk. I tried sending it back to sender, but I don't think that does any good. Now I just remove the coins or dollars and junk the rest. It all so wasteful.

  9. With the holidays rapidly approaching, this is a huge dilemma for everyone. You've raised a great issue, Rhys, give and further support their overbearing marketing or practice tough love and junk the stuff they send. We've chosen to do the latter and give on our own schedule. Everything else, regardless of how much guilt it carries, gets tossed. I like Karen's suggestion about Catalog Choice. I'm going to have to check that one out!

  10. Touchy subject for me because my day job is fundraising for a major non-profit. But actually, I agree with pretty much everything you have said. I don't give to organizations that send me unsolicited swag, don't answer unknown numbers, and take umbrage if my name is sold.

    So please, let me reassure you, there are lots of great non-profits out there that don't do these things. We send a year-end mailing to past donors who haven't already given in some way this year, and we call people who previously gave through a direct appeal and our records show they weren't present when the appeal was made this year. But we don't sell names and we don't hit people up over and over again in the same year.

    Please don't let these bad experiences make you give up on your charitable instincts. There are still lots of worthwhile and reputable organizations out there hugely grateful for your gift!

  11. For the telephone callers, I've heard that saying "I'm sorry, we can't afford it" will work on some of them. I haven't tried it yet. If you try it, let us know if it works! For now, I just say "Put us on your Do Not Call list" and hang up.

  12. I too have a set of charities I give to on a year-round basis and a few that I add at Christmas. The thought that charities are selling lists is appalling. I've worked not-for-profit, and we guarded and protected out givers like the gold they were. What I find really offensive are the charities that send gifts. These are mass mailings, the costs have to be astronomical. Wouldn't that money be better used if put toward the goal of the charities? I don't want my donation coming back to me in the form of address labels.