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March 11, 2008


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I contributed a small amount to one of our local NPR stations, intending to do the same every year, probably increasing to a "membership" amount as my income increased. Two months later, I started getting calls pressuring me to give more. I decided then and there I would never give them money again.

Three years later, I still occasionally get mail from them. I'm not sure how they've followed me through two moves, but it's become just another piece of junk mail I throw away.

1. The Red Cross calls me every couple of weeks about upcoming blood drives in the area. It's as annoying as a telemarketer, and I prefer to donate blood through Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank so that my blood stays in the area (which is why when I organized a blood drive at the fire company, we all agreed to have them come do it, and not the Red Cross).

1a. About a week before my blood drive, one of my sisters was asked or called by the Red Cross about an upcoming blood drive. She politely refused, explaining that I had organized a blood drive through CPBB at the station, and she wanted to be able to donate at it to help out making it successful. The rep on the phone then proceeded to make some sort of rude remarks about CPBB. My sister didn't appreciate it, and neither do I, which is why I definitely don't donate through them anymore. Seriously, why fight over people's blood? The people who need it getting it is what should matter, right? Then again, a lot of fire companies fight with each other rather than focusing on providing the best possible services through teamwork, so, nevermind.

2. Churches. Because I am adamantly opposed to organized religion.

3. The fire company, sort of. Although I don't donate money, I do donate a heck of a mess of a lot of time, and gas out of pocket and wear and tear on my truck for them (2007 Most Active Fire Police Officer award recipient), and it bugs the heck out of me when less than necessary expenditures are approved at meetings, and *especially* when I see rigs left idling during a call just to keep the lights spinning when there is absolutely no need. Good (albeit backwards) example, last year we had a 2 alarm blaze in a neighboring town, part way through it my buddy went to leave in the utility to fetch fresh radio batteries from the station. Turns out he left the light bar flashing away, but shut the truck off. Battery was dead, I had to jump it for him. While his reasoning was "oh crap, I forgot to leave the truck running," my reasoning was, why the hell did you need to leave the lights running? There's 20 other apparatus on scene, we have the road completely shut down, there are plenty of fire police on scene so nobody runs through a line of road cones... wtf? Wacker. The only time I could be labeled somewhat guilty of this was a couple of weeks ago when I left the fire police buggy running for a couple of hours, but that was because I was worried the darn thing wouldn't start up again if I shut it off.

This concept of "opting out of mailings" goes against basic fund raising principles. Basic principles state:

* The best time to ask for a gift is right after someone has given because A) they recently thought of your organization, and B) they thought enough of you to pull out their checkbook and give money. (Read: strike while the iron is hot).

How does the non-profit organization know that you are not planning to give again. And the bigger question-- how do you know you won't be moved or motivated to give again?

There are many, many people in this country who give to those who ask. If a non-profit does not ask, they do not receive.

I realize the practice of multiple mass mailings seems wasteful to many people, but it is the standard practice of ALL charitable organizations.

I tend to agree with the emailer. I think this is particularly true if you give online. I give online so that my money doesn't go to wasting paper. It upsets me when I then get a ton of paper. You have my email address, send me this junk via email!

I'm also turned off by getting cheap "gifts" when I donate (necklaces, bookmarks, calendars). When I get this junk, I will not donate to that cause again. I want my money to go to programs, not to sending me cheap junk that I have to throw away.

My husband and I are both self-employed. We rarely give "regular" gifts to charities (except our church). In fact, I always tend to designate gifts as "one-time only." Even before online giving existed, I would occasionally respond to a call-in TV request for donations. I would tell the charity that it was a one-time gift, but that when I had $$$$ again, I would consider another one-time gift, IF and ONLY IF I received NO mailings from them.

Occasionally, someone managed to keep me off their list. More often, they were unable to follow simple instructions (meant to save them money). I do not repeat my giving if the charity will not respect my wishes.

I agree with James. I work as a fundraiser for a non-profit. If we didn't ask we wouldn't receive. Anyone who calls and requests to be taken off of our mailing list is not contacted again UNLESS they donate again. As far as never giving again, out of sight is out of mind, so statistically, you are more likely to give to the ones who are calling, mailing, etc.

As for e-mail vs snail mail, it is much easier to opt out of e-mail, so in an effort to stay in your thoughts, snail mail works better.

I can top this:

Recently, in Tulsa OK where I am from, everyone received in the mail a letter from some charity (I cannot remember now which one it was) with a nickel attacked to the letter stating:

"A nickel will provide such and such for this research ...and yada yada yada...etc."

So I am thinking to myself....instead of helping people, performing this research, etc., you decided to mail the nickels out to us???

This is the worst example I have ever seen of a charity wasting money.


When I was trying to find a few big charities to support, I looked at ratios. 83% is pretty fantastic, actually. I haven't seen much better.

Givers are going to have to deal with the fact that support staff need to feed their kids and the like.

If I receive an unsolicited phone call from a charity, they will never see a dime from me. I know the Do Not Call exempts charities, among other groups, but they can expect no good treatment from me if they interrupt my life. Usually this phone call is the first contact with that charity and that gives them a VERY bad first impression. If I give to a charity, that means I've researched it and am ready to reach out on my own. They shouldn't waste their time or my patience by trying to come to me before I'm ready to go to them.

Good grief!

I personally stick to the local food bank and thats it. There 100% of my money goes to charity and helping feed people. You can't beat that percentage. Also it helps the community I live in. Well I guess thats not true I also donate on occasion to the college I went to. I am forever on their list and get calls and lame free calendars.

I fully expect though that the 17% they spend on mailings and promotions nets greater further donations than the 17% they spend on that effort.

In other words if they stopped doing mailings, they'd save that 17%, but that's 17% of a budget that could be more than 17% bigger if they kept mailing.

That being said, I don't think the amount expended on mailings to a person should exceed what they've donated.

I'm guessing that it's the "one-time" people from which the mailings get the best return, rather than the regular donors. Turn a one-timer into a repeat-timer.

I currently donate to a charity that routinely sends me thick air-mailed envelopes containing high-weight paper pamphlets and DVDs. They're actually useful in letting me see what they deal with and what progress they've made, but I sort of wonder if the cost of that is really warranted by my modest donations.

BTW... I feel the same way, though, about the SSA mailings I seem to get periodically. Stop wasting money on sending people letters about just how great their SS benefits will be someday. Save the money.

PPS: What's even worse than charities who ask you for additional donations are charities you canceled a membership with yet they still call you asking for you to come back. Get the message already!

Wouldn't you know it, not a couple of hours after my above rant about the Red Cross, they called me. And this time, from a different number, so I couldn't ignore the call!

I never give to anything that has a greater-than-10% administrative/fund raising level. It limits who I give to, but I no that my money is doing more!

The Sierra Club! I published an open letter to them on my blog last summer.

And I never did get takers for the plastic calendars they sent (unsolicited) -- I wound up throwing them away. :(

The Sierra Club wrote me back a somewhat defensive e-mail saying "This is how we get donations!" Needless to say, I did not contribute. I get incredible amounts of junk mail from environmental nonprofits that are supposedly saving the earth.

Thanks so much for considering my comment to be interesting enough to warrant some discussion! I was quite surprised to see it, and I enjoyed reading what you all had to say.

I did receive a prompt reply to my e-mail to the organization, and they have assured me that I will not receive any more new mailings from them. After I "allow approximately 6 weeks for the regular mail to stop". I did get one more mailing this week.

I'm glad that 83% is a good ratio.

Thanks for teaching me about current fund raising principles. I'm sorry that opting out of paper mailings doesn't fit the paradigm, but if people didn't question paradigm, things would never change. Sometimes, change can make cents, or percents. (Sorry, I couldn't resist). In these times, absence of paper mail does not keep the organization 'out of sight and out of mind'. E-mail updates, television, and my daughter's favorite shirt will not allow it to be so.

I too have given $25 to an organization and then regretted it. I threw away more than $25 worth of unopened follow up mailings while hoping that they would get the silent message that I wasn't donating again. I finally wrote a letter to them. Experience is a great teacher, and maybe that is why I followed up so quickly on this one.

Thanks again for all the input! I'm still hoping that I will see an 'opt out of mailings' button near the 'opt out of free gift' button next time I visit their website...

I only give to Meals on Wheels. My local Meals on Wheels doesn't send out those kind of mailings, but I wish it did! That's one reason it is hurting for money.

All these comments in a 1995 timewarp with telemarketers are baffling to me. I don't know anyone who still has a ground line. It's illegal for anyone to solicit a cell.

dogatemyfinances: I don't think it's illegal for them to call your cell if you have a "relationship" with the charity (ie. have given them money once) - at least until you tell them not to call you anymore.

Blatant plug: UMCOR (, while a religious organization, dedicates 100% of public donations to relief efforts. The administrative costs are covered by the United Methodist Church. I've found them to be a rare charity in that regard. Obviously, if you're militantly anti-organized religion (like Jake), that may not work for you. Though, their FAQ does say, "UMCOR avoids tying the promise of its relief and development activity to any religious or political viewpoint." ( They're truly focused on relief efforts, not missionary work or evangelism.

I know, I know, this is way too long, but I have a lot to say about this topic...

I'm a development (that's fundraising to those of you who don't know) manager at a small nonprofit (9 employees). I get completely frustrated when people don't understand that it is almost impossible for 100% of an organization's revenue to go to programs. And from my experience, that means that the charity is not being forthcoming about their expenses.

For 100% of every dollar that comes in to go to programs means that ALL the administrative work to make a charity run day-to-day (bookkeeping - including an annual audit if the organization has more than $250,000 in annual revenue, human resources, office management, fundraising, etc.) have to be done by volunteers. This work is not "program" related per the instructions on the IRS Form 990 (our type of "tax" return). In addition, it also means that every mailing that the charity sends out has to contain a significant amount of educational content, which I'm doubting most do.

Unfortunately, this myth that charities can run on no overhead has been perpetuated by our own industry by nonprofit leaders seeking to cater to donors wanting more bang for their buck. The donors' wishes are understandable, but often unrealistic.

Having worked in the industry, my rule of thumb when giving is that 65 - 85% of revenue goes to overhead. Any less than 65% (and that's my absolute lowest) and you're getting into the inefficient charities and any more than 85% and they are not being forthright about their expenses.

It is very easy and quick to find these percentages, and doesn't require contacting the charity. Register at (it's free), do a search for the charity, open their most recent 990 and divide line 13 by line 12.

There's so much more I could say about this topic, but as I'm assuming you all now want to beat me senseless, I'll let you go in peace.

I'm's late and I'm tired. I meant 65 - 85% of revenue goes to programs! Not overhead, programs! Yikes!

Mike, who ever said militantly? Kripes, it's not like I'm bombing churches and synagogues...

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