Charity mailings starting to get out of hand

By WILLIAM JEANES,

In charitable giving, research shows that Mississippians are the most generous persons in the country. That’s heartwarming news, but I wish it had not reached the ears of so many charities that, I’m convinced, want to take advantage of me because I live here.

On most days when the post office is operating, its representative stuffs at least two pieces of fund-raising mail into my letterbox, often more. I have grown tired of this.

Before you denounce me as a Scrooge or a tightwad, please understand that by most measures I qualify as generous.

We don’t need to discuss my giving habits, but in most years I reach the plateau that church ladies and deacons call tithing. A good friend once told me that he enjoyed giving; his message reached me, and he was right.

If you’ve read this far, you can rightly conclude that I am in sympathy if not bed with most charitable organizations. Here’s where I diverge: I prefer to select for myself the recipients of what I am able and willing to give, donate, or underwrite. It’s my business and no one else’s. Further, in the heated competition for donations, those seeking them often act unattractively.

Chief among the deplorable acts is a charity selling the names of its contributors to other organizations. Not everyone is aware of this practice, but those of us who have worked professionally in what’s known as the direct response business know it well.

Suppose you found an organization to raise funds for the care of abandoned possums. You can produce television commercials showing the poor things in various states of misery, but you will also want to send solicitations through the mail—to a selected audience.

There are organizations that provide mailing lists for a per-name fee. The Badger Relief Society will likely sell you its mailing list. So will the Sports Car Club of America, but you can intuit that badger lovers might provide more fertile ore than car nuts.

The Saviors of Opossums can also refine its effort by Zip Code choices. That’s because the Dakotas have few if any possums, and most Manhattan residents have never seen one.

 

So now you have your mailing list and are about to write prospective donors a heart-wrenching solicitation letter suggesting that recipients dedicate nineteen dollars a month in perpetuity to the care of orphan marsupials. How do you set yourself apart from existing organizations?

You send a gift - intended to lay enough guilt on the addressees to make them pony up. That’s the thought, anyway, and it might work were the proffered gifts not so tacky. Here are just a few of them:

Personalized return-address labels. In December, a prime solicitation month, I received enough of these tiny gems to last for a half-century.

A free stamp. This implies that you are so short of cash that you can’t afford to reply, no matter how many possums perish.

A certificate of appreciation. This item, framed and placed on your office wall, will let everyone know that you care deeply about possums.

A membership card identifying you as a member of the Secret Executive Committee of Saviors of Opossums. Imagine the awed reactions of your friends when you flash this totem. Many will be amazed that you know “possum” needs an O up front.

A half-dozen cheesy greeting cards that look like something Betty Crocker sent to her pals when she discovered self-rising flour.

A small tablet with lines on it for making to-do lists. You can write reminders such as, “Never donate to people who send you small tablets with lines on them.”

If these fail to unglue your wallet, organizations will promise more lagniappe keyed to the size of your donation. These include T-shirts, tote bags, flashlights, celebrity photographs, frankincense, myrrh, and other things you would not want to be seen with.

Here’s my point, and you charity operators might learn something here: I resist a new charity solicitation. Why? Because if I give to it, my mail will suddenly and surely expand to include umpteen similar good causes because they sold my name.

If you doubt this, John Q. Public, donate to something new and change your middle initial to X. You will be amazed how many people want to be best buds with John X. Public.

William Jeanes is a Northsider.

Social

Crisler Boone is the new executive director of the Baptist Health Foundation, responsible for helping raise money that makes any healthcare at Baptist more affordable and more comfortable.