Sunday, August 14, 2011

The follies of our Charities

A few years back around Christmas time, I was discussing with my kids the importance of charity and how to choose who to donate to. The kids got interested and wanted to participate in making such choices. As a result we ended splitting up the amounts we had earmarked for charity among a number of organizations serving various social needs.

A short time after we sent our donations I noticed a substantial increase in mail soliciting donations, not only from those organizations we donated to, but from many others we never dealt with. This started me thinking on the lax ethical standards of organizations that promise not to share your address, but then feel they can do so under the pretext of a "good cause". From there I got thinking about the efficiency of those organizations in fundraising and started a small experiment: over a period of 2 years I collected all soliciting mail from organizations I had stopped donating to and analyzed the contents.

The first surprise was the sheer volume of soliciting mail we received, which indicates to me the scale of donor address sharing going on in the charitable sector. Here is a picture of just a year's worth of these solicitations.

The next surprise was the scope of unsolicited gifts and print materials we received: calendars, planners, tot bags, pen, paper pads, key chains etc. Here are some samples:

While paper pads and calendars could find some use, there were also items that could be useful if it weren't for the excessive quantities we received. Here are 2 examples - greeting cards and address labels:

In an age where regular mail use is declining in favor of electronic communications, the greeting cards we got were way more than my team of 10 people at work needed for ALL occasions. The address labels were just a humongous waste, not to mention other labels of even rarer use like these:

More ridiculous were things that didn't make much sense at all such as "Supporter Cards" that can't be used for much, or nickel coins:

Some thought that overwhelming donors with multiple mailings will do the trick!

All of this made me realize why the charitable sector is so inefficient and vulnerable. Others may enjoy the continuous flood of unsolicited junk. For my part I'd rather see the organizations I support avoid the waste and offer donors choices of electronic communications as well as choices of what gifts they'd like to receive if any at all for their donations.

Until I see such behavior that indicates some financial rationality and responsibility for our environment as well, the bags of soliciting mail is going straight to the blue box.

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  • The other problem with most charitable organizations is that for every dollar collected not very much goes to the "need" they are supposed to be fixing / solving.

    By Blogger Unknown, At 2:52 p.m.  

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