The charities I support send me way too many fundraising letters. How can I get them to stop?

Advice on how to make the world better.
June 3 2009 7:21 AM

Stop Pleas!

The charities I support send me way too many fundraising letters. I'm sick of it. What can I do?

Direct mail. Click image to expand.
Solicitations from charities can be overwhelming

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it.

Dear Patty and Sandy,

My husband and I donate to several charities but get very frustrated with the constant deluge of what I call "Thanks for the money. Send more" letters. Do charities actually expect that people who donate once a year will start donating every month?

Plus, it is obvious that some charities sold our name to other companies. Is there some way to avoid that when we make a donation? Most charities don't even address that in their literature.

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—Sally

Patty:

Sally, I share your pain, but we aren't surprised when we get six renewal mailings starting months before our magazine subscription expires. Why should nonprofit direct-mail strategies be any different from the Economist's or Time's? The business of using direct mail to ensure recurring commitments may be a pain for the recipient and a heavy burden for the recycle bin, but it works. Especially in today's economy, nonprofits need to do what it takes to advocate for your limited charitable contributions.

Sandy:

Return labels, glossy annual reports, quarterly update letters—it's enough to drive the "Green Lantern" crazy. An  article in the "tips" section of Charity Navigator claims that this is one of the top questions the site gets from donors. In order to avoid tree-high stacks of pleas at your door, Navigator suggests a few simple steps to minimize excessive, hassling contact: Pay close attention to charities' privacy policies and make sure you "opt-out" if possible; write directly to the charity; register with the Direct Market Association's list of individuals who don't want to receive unsolicited mail; avoid giving small donations to many charities or just give anonymously. Charity Watch has a sample letter to send to charities advising them that you don't want to receive certain kinds of solicitations.

You should also remember that while you and your husband may be dutiful donors, many people won't remember to donate to even their favorite charity until they get that call or wall calendar. As my mom said, charities aren't doing this to drive you crazy; they're doing it to keep themselves afloat and serve their mission. It doesn't make the pleas any less annoying, but it should keep you extra nice the next time you tell a fundraiser that you would really rather not hear about global warming during the American Idol finale.

Another good way to avoid piles of mail, and to get your donation processed faster, is to start donating online. The Network for Good site is a donation clearinghouse that allows you to choose from more than 1 million charities and keep your donation records in one handy place—all paper-free.

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it.

In our ongoing effort to do better ourselves, we're donating 25 percent of the proceeds from this column to ONE.org—an organization committed to raising public awareness about the issues of global poverty, hunger, and disease and the efforts to fight such problems in the world's poorest countries.

Patty Stonesifer is the chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents and a senior adviser to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where she was president, then CEO for 10 years. She spent the first two decades of her career in the technology business, where her last job was senior vice president at Microsoft.

Sandy Stonesifer works on issues related to adolescent girls' health at a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

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