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How Charities’ Overzealous Solictations Discourage Giving

Posted by B. Daniel Blatt at 6:18 pm - December 18, 2009.
Filed under: Worthy Causes

Today, I received a letter confirming a contribution I made to a charity I have long supported.  Attached to this letter of gratitude was a solicitation for an additional contribution.  Other charities send me regular snail mail, often in thick envelopes, marked with reminders to the Postal Service to handle the package with care as “free gifts are enclosed.”

Fancy writing on other packages indicates “Your FREE 2009 Wrapping Paper & Gift Tags Are Enclosed.”  Others are marked “Urgent” while I received two solicitations from the same charity on one day.  In many cases, I receive regular solicitations, often in thick envelopes from organizations I have never supported.  One particular think tank in our nation’s capital regularly sends me 8 1/2″ by 11″ envelopes asking for my money.  Some send me “gifts” they want to send back to them so they can send them along to soldiers or schoolchildren.  It might save some expense if they didn’t first send such things to me.

I wonder how many trees were cut down for the regular 8 1/2″ by 11″ mailings I receive from the National Resources Defense Council (a group I never supported).  Oddly enough, organizations I have never joined send me reminders to renew my membership while my apartment is cluttered with gift cards I never ordered, books I have yet to read, CDs I have yet to open and DVDs I have yet to watch, all sent to me, free of charge by groups about which I know little.

In one case, I received regular mailings from an organization I was convinced was a fly-by-night operation, using the stories of children with facial deformities in the third world to enrich scam artists on the East Coast.  I later learned that group does very good work; they just have a very bad group of fundraisers.  Indeed, I’m sure that many of these groups do very good work; it’s just that those in their Development Office (or those to whom they farm out fundraising) don’t have much respect for their potential donors.

Here’s some advice to them.  If you send out 2 pieces of mail to someone who has never given to your group, remove his name from your list.   When you send out a note to a contributor, thanking him for his contribution, don’t ask for additional funds.

I had intended to use this post to promote three non-profits I support which don’t regularly send out such solicitations and whose thank-you/confirmation notes are just that, but this post is longer than I had intended already and don’t want to bury the groups worthy of your support, so I’ll save that for my next post.



  1. […] How Charities’ Overzealous Solictations Discourage Giving […]

    Pingback by GayPatriot » Charities that Do Good Work Without Oversoliciting — December 18, 2009 @ 6:42 pm - December 18, 2009

  2. I’ve also been turned off by charities which I used to support. One must have spent most of my donation sending me more pleas for money, including a large box containing glossy brochures, a DVD, and VHS tape containing their spiel. They didn’t stop the junk-mail when I asked, which to me makes them sound more like a scam than a charity.

    Another charity, which I have been donating to for years, recently called me at home during dinner. I told them that I I would no longer support them, and asked them to never call again.

    Comment by Siergen — December 18, 2009 @ 6:49 pm - December 18, 2009

  3. I forget how, but I got on a Do Not Mail list a few years back. I think it was through the credit bureaus. I don’t get charity solicitations or “Pre-approved” credit cards. I get mail from whom I want to get mail.

    I always did like the address lables, but I never do send much mail.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — December 18, 2009 @ 9:09 pm - December 18, 2009

  4. I nearly went bankrupt, so no one sends me anything any longer.

    Comment by JP — December 18, 2009 @ 9:36 pm - December 18, 2009

  5. I work in fundraising, though my job doesn’t have anything to do with sending out letters of that sort. I do know about various techniques used by annual fund offices, though, from conferences and workshops I’ve attended. Some of what you are describing are various attempts used by many nonprofits to acquire new donors. The labels work fairly well–or else they wouldn’t do it. But the catch is that while the labels work in the short term, most of the donors they pick up through the use of techniques such as that rarely continue as donors to the organization for more than a year or two–which is why most of the charities who try it give up on that technique after a while. Usually such donors don’t feel enough of a connection to the organization to continue on as donors for very long.

    Likewise, the premiums that Siergen describes usually prove to be a big loss-leader. The charities that offer them don’t usually make much through offering them because of the costs involved, but the idea is to acquire more donors. Most organizations find over time that many of the donors are ultimately turned off by them, which is why fewer offer premiums any more.

    As far as the other technique you describe–of including a second solicitation in a thank-you note, once again, that has been market-tested by many charities and they do it because they have tracked the data and been able to confirm that it does increase the total amount of donations they receive. I can fully believe that doing that adds to donor fatigue, but the nonprofits keep doing it mainly because the amount they gain from it usually seems to justify continuing the practice.

    Comment by Kurt — December 19, 2009 @ 1:37 am - December 19, 2009

  6. Kurt, thanks for offering us the development perspective. I had wondered if they market tested these appeals.

    Comment by B. Daniel Blatt — December 19, 2009 @ 1:39 am - December 19, 2009

  7. I wonder if the NWF(?) focus grouped that ad last year featuring Noah Wylie almost crying about the fraudulent plight of the polar bears.

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — December 19, 2009 @ 2:37 pm - December 19, 2009

  8. We value the donor and their privacy as much as we do our mission. I know I would hate to think we fooled anyone into giving us a dime or a bag of clothes. I like the idea of thank you notes, especially e mail ones with no links or requests for several reasons. The biggest one is this: When a charity forgets who supports it and takes the donor for granted, even once, you can bet they have also lost sight of their mission. I never want to forget that the funds I lend out to the poor are provided by people who want to see that happen as much as I do. All charity revolves on that idea.

    Comment by Lex — December 29, 2009 @ 10:41 pm - December 29, 2009

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