Dear [name of nonprofit/charity goes here]:

Dear [name of nonprofit/charity goes here]:

Oh, goodie, another request for money. Maybe it’s the fourth reminder about “membership renewal” I’ve received in the past six weeks…roughly one every two weeks since I actually sent in a check that was intended to cover “membership.” Those letters seem to come a lot more often in November and December–but it’s really a year-round plague.

Maybe it’s another tchotchke, most likely something made of outgassing/stinky plastic that winds up in the garage (with or without a “b” after the “r”), followed by repeat letters reminding us how lovely your advertising gimmick is and why we should send you ($300? $200? $150? More?) out of sheer gratitude.

Maybe it’s a letter saying that you’d really appreciate it if we upped our contribution by (50%? $100?), and not-so-subtly implying that we’re cheapskates if we don’t come through.

Now, this time around I’m only talking to/about some of the groups that we do support…or at least have supported. And I can tell you that we’re getting more than a little tired of it.

Somehow, Second Harvest (which gets incredible value for every dollar contributed) manages to get by with one or at most two mailings a year. No unwanted crap. No real guilt trip: They lay out what our money can buy, they lay out–succinctly, without horror stories or grotesque photos–what the problem is. It’s a pleasure to write a good-size check.

Somehow, Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic manages to raise funds without driving us crazy with repeat mailings. The same is true for Doctors Without Borders and a couple of others.

Oh, and it’s a funny thing: We’re not “members” of Second Harvest or Recordings for the Blind or Doctors Without Borders. We’re just contributors. So we can’t possibly forget to renew our membership.

Nature Conservancy–well, they’re not bad, although they could be better. The quarterly magazine really is informative. They’ve gotten the message that offering tchotchkes is one thing, but sending them unrequested is offensive litter. I think we average four fundraising requests from them a year, two from the Northern California chapter, two from national. We can live with that, although two would be even better.

But for some of you…actually most of you, though tchotchkes aren’t the problem they used to be (with one awful exception, a society I’m feeling less humane towards all the time, not to give any clues)…

Well, here’s the truth. We give to causes we care about, where we’re reasonably certain our money is well spent and where we don’t see a huge philosophical difference with the organization.

We don’t like being annoyed with repeated mailings. We really don’t care whether our “member” status is on the line. And we really, truly aren’t fond either of unrequested merchandise (we’ll make an exception for a really good calendar) or the guilting of sending stamped return envelopes.

Yes, it would be nice for you if we increased our giving by $100 or 25% of whatever each year. Fact is, though, that our income’s heading in the opposite direction. For us to even maintain giving levels next year will be a considerable stretch. That’s not your problem, of course, but it makes us a little less tolerant of heavy-handed fundraising efforts.

For every nonprofit/charity we support now, there’s another within the same general sphere that we could substitute. Given some of the examples we see now, we’re inclined to suspect that some of those will nag us a whole lot less–and most of those will spare us the trinkets.

Maybe it’s time to do what we thought about last year. Just a simple spreadsheet (or another page on the donations spreadsheet we already have). One number per group. Add one for each mailing we receive. Add five for each unrequested trinket we receive. When giving time comes around, subtract two from the total, multiply by five, and modify last year’s donation by the resulting percentage. In other words: Send us three letters, lose 5%. Send us six letters and two trinkets, lose 70% of this year’s contribution. (Send us just one letter a year…and the contribution goes up 5%.) There are always worthwhile places to send that freed-up money.

Sounds like a plan.

Of course, this is just idle musing. We’re really not ready to take such a drastic step. Yet. Or are we? Writing a group of checks last week was fun. Recycling stacks of repeated requests, typically for ever-larger amounts: Less fun.

7 Responses to “Dear [name of nonprofit/charity goes here]:”

  1. jessamyn says:

    I’ve gotten to the point where I do a lot of my giving by sticking a check in an envelope (no paypal, no credit card) with my name on the check Sharpied out and no return address because I’d like them to have my money but I don’t want to join their money-givers club. This works okay, they cash the checks, but yes I know how you feel. I sometimes feel that my smaller donations are almost totally expended on asking me for larger ones.

  2. This topic is near and dear to my heart. I used to get peeved at the mail I got from nonprofits too, and wondered how they could afford to send me so much stuff all the time.

    I work with a small nonprofit humane society/animal shelter in my rural Tennessee county. Upon the advice of a consultant, we began sending direct mail appeals last year. We had many discussions about how many to send and whether it would be annoying to recipients, etc. All we could do was try it. We sent out five mailings in the period between June 06 and Dec. 07. All but one of them netted us about $4000. The expenses to send the mailing ranged between 20 and 25% of the total response.

    I don’t like the fact that 20 to 25% of each donation is “wasted” on the marketing effort. But the fact remains that the mailings have been lucrative for us, and it seems to work. When you consider the huge amount of time it takes to plan and execute fundraising events, these results are an enormous benefit for a small organization. It would be much cheaper to do this electronically, but in this community, our email mailing list is much shorter than our US mail list. People are not as universally connected as the internet world may think. And to grow our mailing list, which is the only way to spread the support, we use addresses on checks, adoption forms, and whatever else we get.

    One more thing: the “money givers clubs” are a way towards a more stable income that we can count on for budgeting and deciding whether we can afford to hire a person for a few more hours a week or whether we can get the roof fixed this year.

    The national groups that get the most press have staff members hired to create mailings. I’m not saying these groups are not doing great things, but please remember that the small local groups that actually make a difference in communities are not usually supported by those national groups. We are not a “chapter” of a national group. We have benefited from a few grants and some educational opportunities from national groups, but the majority of our work is done with money we raise ourselves. There are no grants available to pay for the water bill or to pay our minimum wage staff to clean the kennels. Granting organizations want to see a healthy, sustainable operation, and often require matching funds. Where do those matching funds come from? The people who support us directly.

    If you want the most “bang for your bucks,” consider supporting a local group that is trying to make a difference for good in your own community.

  3. walt says:

    I’m sympathetic to the needs of local groups (and yes, we do some of that giving). I’m not opposed to direct mailings. What bothers me are repeated mailings to people who are giving, and even more the mailing of unrequested trinkets.

    If you’re sending five solicitations, that’s one thing. If you’re sending four more, the same year, to people who responded to the first: That’s too many, in my opinion. Only my opinion, to be sure.

  4. Bronwyn says:

    I’m not a fundraising professional, but I’ve been told by several that if you’re being overloaded with solicitations from a nonprofit, it’s worth sending them a letter asking that they stop sending them, or just send them once a year (or however often you think is fair). Many – though not all – will honor that request, and they have software to make that fairly easy.

    My pet peeve is getting those pre-printed address labels with “Mr.” in front of my name. If you don’t know me well enough or can’t be bothered to do the research to find out that mine is a woman’s name, don’t ask me for money.

    BTW, I found your blog through a link from Michele Martin’s Bamboo Project Blog (

  5. John Miedema says:

    I know you’re not trying to be a grinch. I feel very strongly about the same thing. It grinds me that many charities are left doing a job that really requires a systemic solution, so I tolerate their incessant requests for more money, i.e., I politely decline. Maybe I should count them all and send the list in a Christmas card to my Member of Parliament. If armies had to do bake sales …

  6. Elena O'Malley says:

    I love RfB&D. For over a decade, it’s provided me with the egotistical introvert’s ideal volunteer gig: I get to listen to the sound of my own voice, rarely interrupted, for a couple hours every week.

  7. walt says:

    Elena: Interesting point–particularly since I have an “announcer’s voice.” Right now, I don’t know where I’d find the time, so money will have to do. Some day…