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The team from Charity Navigator, the nation's largest independent charity evaluator and leading donor advocate, shares their thoughts on emerging nonprofit-sector issues and offers tips to better inform your intelligent giving decisions.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

How to Stop the Flood of Charity Mail

A day doesn't go by without a donor contacting us expressing their frustration at the number of solicitations they receive from charities. Here's an example:

It is very disturbing to me to donate, say, $25 and then for the rest of the year receive frequent mailed requests for more donations. I feel that my $25 is being spent on the cost of sending printed mailings that ask me for money. What is more, at the same time, the charities to which I donate obviously give or sell my information to other charities so that a geometric explosion of requests has resulted in several such envelopes stuffing my home mailbox nearly every day. For the past six months, I have been just throwing ALL requests for money into my wastebasket, unopened. It is a terrible waste for the charities — all that paper, all that postage, all those return labels, cards, tote bags, and other gifts. Is there any way to change this way of fundraising? ~ Charity Navigator user

If that sounds familiar to you, then we recommend you follow these two steps:
  1. Only donate to charities with a demonstrated commitment to donor privacy (look for the blue check in our A&T ratings). To make sure you don't end up on another group's mailing list, make sure that the charity you are donating to has made a promise not to share, sell or trade your personal information with any other entity. Charity Navigator's Accountability & Transparency evaluations include an assessment of each charity's donor privacy policy. To meet our criteria, a charity must have a written donor privacy policy that states it will not to sell or trade the personal information of its donors. In addition, we require that the policy be prominently displayed on the charity's website or in its marketing and solicitation materials.

    As a Charity Navigator registered user, you can use our advanced search feature to find a list of charities that are financially efficient, match your charitable interests and have a confirmed donor privacy policy.
  2. Give anonymously. Take advantage of Charity Navigator's Giving Basket which lets you, the donor, decide how much personal information you want to share with the charity - from your full contact information to none of it. Giving anonymously kills two birds with one stone - the charity itself can't pester you with endless appeals nor can it sell your contact information to others.
Some additional steps that will help you reduce the mailings you receive from the charities you support and from those you've never heard of before:
  • When you make a donation, make sure you 'opt-out.'
    Of the charities we've reviewed, many have 'opt-out' policies. We notify you when this is the case so that you, as a donor, know that you must tell the charity that you wish not to have your personal information distributed to any other entity. Depending on the charity, you can 'opt-out' either by calling, writing or clicking a button when making an online donation.
  • Refrain from giving small donations to many charities. The quickest and most surefire way to wind up on mailing lists is to make lots of small charitable donations. Small donations, such as $25, barely cover the costs the charity incurred in soliciting the gift. To recoup those costs, many charities will simply sell the donor's name to another charity doing similar work.
    Charities obviously tend to be much more protective of donors that give large gifts. The charitable marketplace is crowded with many charities pursuing similar missions. Since the majority of donations come from individuals and not foundations, corporations or the government, charities are in competition with each other for your donation. A charity would never divulge a mid- to high-level donor's personal information to another charity. The revenue it could generate by selling the donor's information simply doesn't outweigh the risk of losing that donor to the other charity. If you've taken the time to find an efficient and effective charity whose work in which you believe, then it shouldn't be too difficult for you to decide to concentrate your giving on that charity instead of spreading your money around to many charities with whom you are less familiar.
  • Call or write the charity directly. 
    Contact the charity that sent you the solicitation and ask to be removed from their mailing list. Additionally, ask for the contact information of the organization that sold them your name- the source of your troubles. Then contact that organization to request that it refrain from selling or trading your personal information. Be sure you have the appeal letter on hand in case the charity needs specific information from it in order to locate your name in its records. 

    Even if you plan to support a charity that sends you too frequent mailings, we recommend that you contact the charity and let its staff know of your giving plans. Will you donate once a month, once a quarter, or once a year? Responsible and well-run charities will welcome your call. They prefer to have donors that they can depend on to give without having to be reminded. This helps the charity improve its fundraising efficiency and ultimately dedicate more time and resources towards the programs you wanted to support in the first place.
  • Register with services that aim to stop junk mail. 
    Although there is no regulation that mandates that charities (and corporations) honor your requests to opt-out of their mailing lists, these services may still be of help.
    • Through the Mail Preference Service program, the DMA maintains a list of individuals that do not wish to receive unsolicited mail. Be sure to specify that you do not wish to receive solicitations from both commercial and charitable organizations. If you fail to do so, then the DMA will automatically place your name on the list provided to for-profit entities only.
    • Take a photo of the junk mail you wish to stop and send it to PaperKarma. They’ll contact the mailer for you and ask that they remove you from their distribution list.
    • You can report unwanted mail to Catalog Choice and they’ll process your request for you.
Visit our website for more tips for donors. 

As a 501 (c) (3) organization itself, Charity Navigator depends on public support to help donors make informed choices. Please consider investing in the future of Charity Navigator by making a donation today.  Donate now >>


Tom said...

Great tips...will be sure to try them.

Unknown said...

I follow most or all of your suggestions, but one charity in particular (Environmental Defense Fund) is a HUGE offender of too much junk mail! This is a highly rated charity by CN, and they have decent marks for financial responsibility. But I have been receiving solicitations from them almost weekly! Sometimes I get more than one mailing from them on the same day! I have written to them on several occasions, requesting to be removed from all mailing lists, to no avail. I certainly will not donate to them again, due to their extravagant mailing policy, even if it doesn't show up in the ratings.

Unknown said...

I'm sorry to hear that Bob. All donors should be respected and have their requests honored by the charities they support!
Any chance you'd want to share your feedback on the charity's rating page on our site so that more donors can learn from your experience? Here's the link: http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.comments&orgid=3671.

Tom Andersen said...

For non-profit organizations, these solicitations aren't junk mail -- they are the time-tested way to raise the money that we need to do the work that we do. They pay off. Each mailing raises way more money than it costs, so they're not really a factor in being "financially efficient" -- they don't lose money, they raise money to fulfill the charity's mission. Judge a non-profit by the work it does, not by the amount of mail it sends. You can certainly ask not to receive so many solicitations; you can also just put them in the recycling bin and not worry about it.

Trollopian said...

I echo Bob Billstein; the Environmental Defense Fund is a consistent offender when it comes to nonstop requests for donations. (And by "snail mail" too! Ironic, for an environmental organization.) Though I strongly support EDF's mission and had donated for over 20 years, I finally stopped.

The Baker said...

Tom, anyone sending out solicitations of any kind sees their mailings that way. Junk mail is in the eye of the receiver.

Additionally, there are charities that absolutely lose money on mailings and either stop doing them or don't do the math properly to see the mailings as a drain on their money and time. If someone who only gives, say $100, per year is getting weekly solicitations, then the person running those mailings has lost control of their list.

xAirbusdriver said...

Mr. Anderson,

Perhaps you need to get much better control and information on your mailing database "efficiency". Any mailings that end up in "in the recycling bin" cannot possibly be considered "efficient". Frankly, if I had an employee (much less a CIO/CEO) state such rubbish, she'd be escorted out of the building.

Secondly, I think your comment that we should "not worry about it" belies your true attitude toward "charity" in general and your donation base in particular. "Just give us the money, we'll take it from there." Not from me and my family. ;-)

Unknown said...

Im tired of receiving 2 or more mail daily asking for money

Unknown said...

Sometimes I worry that charities don’t get the basic psychological fact that if you sell out donors you will get them flooded with requests. Some envelopes are horrible- like, I don’t know humans can be so cruel. Then I feel powerless to help. What can my $100 a month do? Bad strategy. In my opinion so is sending $. keep it.