How Charity Fundraising Poisons the Well

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I’m not a Rockefeller, and I don’t have a charitable trust fund, but I do pretty well, and occasionally, I do donate money to various charities. I also donate household items and clothing on a pretty regular basis since I have kids at that age where neither clothes nor toys last all that long. However, I’ve forever changed how I give money, to the detriment of the very charities that wanted me to consider them when giving.

Charity Update Phone Calls Scam

Phone Calls

Who can it be calling on my phone? Ring-ring. It’s that charity; they want more money to pay for more fundraising phone calls.

There are numerous charities that turn used home goods into good works. I like these charities because they serve triple-duty in my good cause book. First, they keep goods that otherwise have no home out of the landfill. I’ve got toys, books, clothes, and so on, and while I can have a garage sale, that isn’t really high on my fun list. Instead of throwing these items out I can donate them. Second, the charities turn sell these goods and use the cash to do useful things for their organization. Some of them even employ disadvantaged members of their communities producing yet another advantage.┬áThird, they resell these items in their stores where people who really need to stretch a dollar can buy them for much cheaper than anywhere else. I like that my donation helps them as well. And, of course, in the end, I get a tax deduction, which is nice for me.

Like many others I get postcards from time to time asking me if I have any household items to donate. They need my donation so much, they are even willing to arrange for a truck to come to me so that I don’t have to bring my donation to them. This is particularly important for the smaller organizations that don’t have many locations, especially if none of them are anywhere near me. All I have to do is make a call, give them the address for the pickup, and my phone number so they can contact me.

Seems legit.

But, it turns out that too many charities are actually finely tuned fundraising machines and that address and phone number are used extensively for both. Several years ago, I had a lot of stuff to donate, so I scheduled pickups with two different organizations that I wanted to support. They picked the stuff up and they left a receipt for the tax deduction.

Everyone was happy.

Then, the phone calls started coming. Each charity called at minimum once per month to ask if I had anything else to donate. When I said no, they launched into what can only be described as a telemarketing pitch. Did I know that now, my donation was more important than ever? Thanks to [insert recent new event here] donations were down and needs were up, was I really, really, really, sure I didn’t have anything? And, if not, maybe I could write a check instead?

I don’t really like getting phone calls at all, least of all sales calls, which no matter how much these organizations say otherwise, are just what these are.

The calls never stopped until the day that we shut-off our land line.

The other day, I got a card, and thought about making a donation, but I remembered the continuous nagging phone calls. I’ll still donate, but it won’t be until I get around to it, and it will be with whatever charity has a location near where I am when I finally load it into my car. That charity, and everyone else who uses that method of raising awareness has lost my donation forever. Is it worth it to squeeze out a few extra pickups?

Even worse than this one is the charity update phone call. This scam works like this. I donated to a local charitable organization. It was a check, no strings attached. I got a call thanking me.

Everyone was happy.

The next month I got a phone call from the charity. They wanted to update me on their progress and explain how my donation was helping.

Seems legit.

For four sentences, I got an update on the organization. Then, I heard those familiar words written by the most reused copywriter in the history of man, “but now, your support is more important than ever.” And, here I was, taking a telemarketers phone call, because I was stupid enough to donate with a check that has my phone number on it. Needless to say, that charity will never get another penny from me.

Charity Thank You and Can We Have Some More

Several years ago, my wife coordinated the giving program at her work. Everyone pitched in and donated a few hundred dollars to Special Olympics. Since they don’t have any sort of permanent giving program, my wife just sent the money in as a single personal check. The charity sent a thank you note and some other things and my wife proudly took them to the office to share with her coworkers. But, every few weeks since then, we get another mailer asking for more money. Of course, our contribution is needed now more than ever. I guess we should have waited then.

By now, I figure that every charitable organization I ever gave money to has spent my entire contribution doing nothing but trying to get me to contribute again. A dozen or so mailers per year, times six or seven years equals something like 80 mailings. Eighty mailings written, produced, printed, folded, and mailed has probably eaten up $100 of the original $300 donation. In the end, we’ll have contributed nothing more than paying for junk mail to be sent to our house.

For other groups, it’s a fully staffed telemarketing center, employees, phone lines, and so on, all to get me to donate more. By now, the entire amount of any donations I made has been spent running that call center.

Where To Donate Without Being Begged for More

I still contribute. I still donate. I just do it differently. These professional money-raising organizations don’t get my money any more. Instead, my children’s schools get regular contributions. I know where the money goes and with the exception of a mention in each week’s email, they never ask for any more. I donate household goods to ARC or Goodwill, the two organizations that had drop off locations that I know of. I hand them over and drive away. No phone number, no contact info. Those guys sending the postcards have ruined it for themselves.

I had my bank stop putting my phone number on my checks a few years ago, for several reasons, and I never fill out that field when donating. If a form won’t work without a phone number, they don’t get my donation. Ever. Some friends just fake-number them. I don’t bother. If their goal is to get a phone number for their call center, I don’t want to give them my money.

This rant is brought to you by the stacks in my garage that I need to donate by December 31st, to get my 2013 tax deduction. I’d love to call some of those organizations and setup a charitable pickup, but it’s not going to happen.

I wonder how many thousands or millions of dollars these organizations lose every year by overly aggressive fundraising?


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