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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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Monday, August 12, 2019

Take Back Control of Your Mailbox Today


Does it ever feel like your mailbox is just a place for bills, coupon packs, and charity solicitations to call home? You’re not alone. We heard from a number of donors who were curious about why they receive so much charity “junk mail” and how they can get it to stop.

Here are our tips for taking back control of your mailbox...

Why does it seem like as soon as you make a donation to one charity, your mailbox fills up with requests from pretty-similar-but-not-exactly-the-same organizations?

The answer is simple. You gave. Charities rely on donors, like you, to raise funds to continue their work toward achieving their missions. You probably already knew that. But what you might not know is that most charities have a 50% donor retention rate, which means that for every two donors that support their cause this year, only one will return and make a gift next year.

While marketing and fundraising staff debate why this happens and work tirelessly to close this gap and raise their donor retention rates, they must find ways to encourage new donations to meet their revenue goals and continue their programs.

Selling, Buying, and Renting Lists

Charities know that most donors have one or two causes they’re passionate about. So, it makes sense to reach out to individuals who have supported organizations similar to their own. Selling, buying, and renting donor lists is not an uncommon practice in the nonprofit world. By using a similar organization's donor list, charities can have some assurances: first, that these donors are interested in their cause, and second, that they are actively supporting it.

The rental process, which is the most popular method for contacting known donors, is usually mediated by an outside party. The nonprofit that is renting the list never sees the names and addresses - only the marketing agency or mail house see this information.  If the prospective donor does not respond to the mailing, the nonprofit will typically not mail that person again, only keeping the people who donate in response to the mailing. 

Donor Privacy Policies

At Charity Navigator, we believe donors have a right to know how a charity plans to use their name and personal information--does the organization participate in selling, buying, or renting donor lists with organizations?

As part of our Accountability & Transparency rating, we require that charities publish their donor privacy policy on their site and make it easily accessible to their supporters. Charities that do not participate in selling, buying, or renting lists receive full credit for this metric. Organizations that have an “opt-out” policy, which requires donors to explicitly ask to not have their name sold or shared, receive partial credit for this metric. And charities that fail to publish or enact a donor privacy policy lose full credit for this metric.

Before you make your donation, check out the charity’s Charity Navigator rating to see what kind of policy the organization has. When in doubt, provide a note with your donation stating that you do not grant the organization permission to sell or share your name or personal information with other charities and third parties.

Donating Anonymously

A fool-proof way to avoid having your name and information sold or shared with organizations you do not currently support is to give anonymously. Donor-advised funds often provide their clients with the ability to give a gift without attribution. For donors who may not be using a giving fund to make their charitable contributions, Charity Navigator’s Giving Basket provides this functionality.

At checkout, you are given the option to edit how much information is shared with the charity or charities you are choosing to support. You may opt to provide your name and email, full contact information, or withhold all details from the recipient. Regardless of your selection, you will still receive a receipt stating the tax-deductibility of your gift.

Learn more about using Charity Navigator’s Giving Basket to give smarter this year, and get more tips from Charity Navigator to take back control of your mailbox.

Even though excess mail can be annoying, it shouldn’t be a reason to not support causes close to your heart. To avoid an overflow of mail, just look at the charity’s privacy policy or donate anonymously.

Written by Ashley Post, Communications Manager at Charity Navigator.


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 >> 

33 comments:

Unknown said...

Very interesting. Thanks for this info and your tips.

Unknown said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this article. Now it makes total sense.

Unknown said...

Although I still am getting massive amounts of unsolicited charity requests, last year I began using your sight to donate only to charities with a privacy donation non sharing policy. I thank you for that. I also donate on line once a year to Charity Navigator. I would very much appreciate your not sending me a request through the mail. So many trees are used to produce all the junk mail and solicitations that come through the mail. Think how many trees we could save without this onslaught of unnecessary and unwanted mail.

contra farmer said...

I only give online, and only to those organizations who do not require entering my home address. Someday more of them will catch on that snail mail is expensive and unnecessary.

Unknown said...

I wonder if it would help if charities were given information about practices that annoy donors. For example, except in VERY special cases, I do not support any charity that sends me cash in their solicitation. Even pennies are immediately removed from the contents of the envelope, which then go straight into the recycle bin. The cash goes to the Salvation Army kettle at Christmas.) I am a little more tolerant of calendars, but I could probably hang two or three unsolicited calendars in every room of my house if I had space on the walls. And of course if you don't send them a donation immediately you soon get a letter asking if you got the calendar.

Then there are the military support organizations that send you little "gifts" you are supposed to send back with a donation so that the toothpaste or whatever can be sent to service persons. And the organizations that send several solicitations every week. And ones that don't have a place to check off "Please don't send me the [tote bag] [thermos bottle] [blanket] or whatever.

Finally, I always check to see if there is a Charity Navigator logo. Thanks for what you do.

Incidentally, this message is not coming from pjgonigam.. She is my sister who lives with me and also uses this computer. This email appeared in my inbox, so you must have my email address as well as hers.

Roxana said...

I always consider that if they have enough money to be sending me multiple mailings (and some of these include some of your top-rated charities, unfortunately), then they don't need my money and they don't get it.

Janet said...

You left out that Network For Good charges an outrageous 4% fee in your basket program. That means the donor either pays an extra 4% at checkout to cover it, or the charity takes a 4% hit. I refuse to play that game. My money goes directly to charities and I deal with the snail mail issue with them. Usually one request to be removed from the snail mail list is sufficient. The easiest way to avoid all the snail mail? Pick just a few favorite charities and give them each more money. Giving $20 bucks here, there, and everywhere really helps no one and clogs your mailbox. The big national groups don't need it anyway. Local charities that you can visit and vet personally is usually a bigger bang for the buck, as small local groups aren't on CN and literally need every dollar.

Unknown said...

I've tried a Return To Sender message on the envelope but my mailman said the postal service doesn't do that for charities.

Unknown said...

The most annoying thing is getting mail from the charity that you donated to on-line. I send back such mail with instructions to never send me mail. If it continues, I stop donating.
Several years ago, Red Cross was sending 2-3 mail items a week. It must have cost them $50 per year even with reduced mail cost. They would not stop it.
FLIP

Lee cervecero said...

I am in benevolence burnout. I average 3 charity requests in the mail, everyday except Saturday. If I get more than one per month from a charity, they are blacklisted. I even get requests from overseas,because I travel. Once I gave to Wounded Veterans, I received requests from VFW, An Legion, Soldiers Angels, and more that I can't remember some have gone so far as to mail a trinket, a short and a pen. Then lots of postal mails asking if I got these "gifts". It IS a problem for me because I am a vet and my heart goes to these guys. Sad.

Unknown said...

On the + side my Daughter is a grammar school teacher and She has incorporated many of the calendars in Her classroom and as take home projects/gifts, etc. Unsolicited, informative material ranges from the slaughter house to more positive information that I pass on ahd sometimes donate to. My biggest head slapper is the money sent via snail male with the request for a donation. Your site helps in a good overview of fund disbursement.

Amy M. said...

I wish Charity Navigator had written this article in such a way that it didn't provoke negative perceptions of nonprofits. The reason charities use direct mail to solicit donations is because it's effective (i.e. it makes more money than it costs). While each donor who receives a solicitation letter may not give, overall the mailing earns revenue. Direct mail results are declining, but currently they are still more effective than online solicitations (which are increasing.) As the article states, charities lose donors every year and they need a way "fuel" their important missions. Ethical, quality nonprofits want to honor donor wishes and provide options to opt out of having your contact information shared with others and provide options to allow you to choose how often and what type of contact you want from the charity. No worthy nonprofit uses their valuable resources to send solicitations that don't earn revenue.

Unknown said...

I agree!

chaosmanor said...

I actually do not mind (well, not too much) getting solicitations from groups of a similar nature to those to which I already donate. One never knows when a previously-unknown organization will strike a chord.

What I seriously DO NOT like is being bombarded with multiple solicitations from any group, whether I donate to them or not. And on that same line, getting note pads, address labels, calendars or any similar thing which I did not request is guaranteed to annoy me. How many calendars does any household need? Even giving them away only gets rid of a few out of the two dozen calendars I get every year. Address labels are even worse: I couldn't use them all if I wrote 20 letters every day!

Charities have GOT to get it through their heads that the overwhelming majority of donors DO NOT want anything back for their donations. If we did not ask for next year's calendar, please don't send it to us. Stop wasting stamps by pre-stamping envelopes: if we can afford to send some money, we have stamps; if we can't afford a stamp then we won't be donating, anyway.

Needless waste of money is the surest way to turn donors off, but far too many charities don't get that. I am hopeful that the efforts of CN and other charity raters to educate charities about what donors really want and expect will bear fruit, and soon.

PeteCress said...

Thanks for the pointer to Giving Basket.

Frankly, we had completely ceased donating to any charity whatsoever once it became obvious that, by giving, we became a piece of meat hung out to feed the wolves.

After years of giving twenty bucks here, a hundred bucks there, it took us the better part of a year to get our daily mailbox contents back down to where legitimate mail was not on danger of being lost in all the junk.

Now that we have achieved that, nobody gets a dime from us that has our name associated with it.

Unknown said...

Each year when giving, I request that my information NOT be sold or shared with any other group. I also request that I receive only ONE solicitation from each charity per year. I don't care when they contact me by mail or email, just that it be only once. In the computer age, I find that most organizations are able to do that and are willing to limit contacts but only if specifically directed to do so. When they don't comply after several requests from me, I drop them from my giving list. This definitely seems to have helped the solicitation problem!

"K" said...

The "K" Family:

Having just read all comments, here's what we do that has proven effective in reducing our junk mail volume, etc.

1. All UNsolicited requests that HAVE a postage-paid return envelope are Mailed Back with the following note - (thus costing the sender further money and providing the U.S. Postal Service with revenue).

"From the "Attorney-in-Fact" for the Estate of (& here we draw a RED arrow to our circled pre-printed names/address) ... "Please REMOVE & DELETE these names/address from ALL your records. The Estate will not be donating and YOU will save future wasted mailing costs." s/ "Illegible signature" along with the title: "Attorney-In Fact".

2. We only donate to non-profits that get 3*** or 4**** ratings ... AND if a non-profit we do give to has fundraising expenses greater than 10-15%, we call and ask why ... and if we're still not 'happy' with their reply ... we just stop donating.

3. We now give FAR more money to fewer, but LOCAL non-profits where our $'s will have a much greater 'effect' in helping our community. Large national organizations that have Net Assets in the Hundreds of Millions are no longer part of our giving plan!

4. Donating monthly via credit card allows us to give smaller amounts/month ... but larger amounts with 12 payments. (We also get a % Reward back each month from our credit card company ... 'paying for' some of our donated funds!) These cc receipts are also additional proof of our donation.

5a. We ask every non-profit to NOT send us monthly 'hard copy' receipts/'thank yous' via the mail ... asking instead that they send us just an e-mail if they wish.

5b. We also make sure that every non-profit to whom we give a total of $250 or more per year sends us, also via email if they can, a letter certifying the amount of our calendar year gift. They are required by the IRS to do so, and most do. These letters then go into our own personal income tax records to document our annual tax deductible contributions.

6. Calendars and any other 'swag' included in solicitations or 'thank you packets' get 'recycled' into the "Little Free Librarys" that are in our neighborhood.

Unknown said...

Each January I donate to 27 ngos. I request they do not send me paper mail and they do not share my contact info. Most comply, but a couple don't and I have to complain. It's tedious, but it keeps my mailbox empty. Gary Baxel

JFT said...

This is why you need to rate the Fundraising Groups. Because of the schtick of the year like sending coins , it is obvious that there must be several big fundraising organizations that leech off all our giving. Charities should know that they regularly lose donors because of the actions of their predatory fundraisers. Jim Thorpe

Unknown said...

I too am irritated by the masses of mailings I receive. What really upsets me is that the US Postal service is subsidizing them by delivering all this repetitious junk. The USPS is losing millions every year that is born by the taxpayer. In other words, the USPS is encouraging the abuse of the mailing system and passing it on to the taxpayer.

About 10 years ago, my mail carrier was delivering to me and had a pile of that stuff consisting mainly of junk mail. I commented on it. Her response? Job Security!

A couple of years ago in my frustration, I kept all the junk mail and catalogs I received for six months and put them in one stack. At that time it was nearly as tall as I am, 5'9". I intended to deliver it to my Congressman but did not get around to it. The volume has only ballooned since then.

I wish there was some way to charge the charity a progressive rate to mail in one calendar year; i.e., first solicitation...free; Second solicitation...$.25/ounce; Third solicitation... the going 1st class rate.
OR
Possibly the postal service would be be directed to return all unwanted mail from not-for-profit charities. The returned mail would have to be claimed by the charity at the first rate postage cost or loose all mailing privileges, forever.

jackeeno said...

Between the end of last year (when I make most of my charitable donations) and the end of this past July I must have received close to 300 solicitations- most from organizations I never donated to— I had labels made up which I stick on the reply portions- the label states that due to the volume of solicitations received I cannot donate to all and that unfortunately your organization didn’t make the cut. I also state on the label that I only donate twice a year to the organizations I do support. Unfortunately, this really hasn’t worked out too well as very few if any have slowed down their solicitation rate and have those who I have told I cannot support keep sending me pleas— along with what I call their “guilt trip” items- be it address labels, calendars, note pads, greeting cards, tote bags, checks( which they beg you not to cash but return with a donation instead), and other items too numerous to mention— but you get the idea- this Charity Navigator giving basket seems like a good idea— and even though there is a fee involved, even that is tax deductible. Also I resent the fact that many of these organizations are now telling you what donation amount” would really help them”— and many are now suggesting 3 and sometimes 4 figure amounts as a “suggested” donation. This solicitation madness has to be curbed!

chaosmanor said...

For those who worry or fret that charity mailings use virgin paper that comes directly from trees, you can (in general) stop worrying. The vast majority of charities use recycled, post-consumer sourcing for their paper, and they are only too willing to tell us that on the envelopes and the letters enclosed, particularly if the paper has been certified in some way. There are some few charities which don't do this, but the push to change to recycled and post/pre-consumer mixed papers, and soy-based inks, which began back in the late 1960s, has become the industry standard. Too much money has been invested in alternate, environmentally-friendly sourcing of papers and inks, and the cost is far too low, for anyone to not use these, unless the finished product (high-quality magazines, and art books, for instance) requires virgin papers and/or specialized inks. And every mailing can be recycled again. If you live in a place which does not have mandatory recycling of paper, consider starting a petition and/or an action group.

Unknown said...

My Postman refers to me as his best customer. My mailbox is near the Garage door, above a trash can. When I greet him at the garage door, trash lid removed, I sort the mail with all junk mail easily deposited into the trash can.
He calls it "Job Security".
I like my Postman and wish to keep the Postal Service in business so-o, the more the merrier re: "Junk Mail" !

Unknown said...

Juneau Mark said...
I have been hoping that "plea mail" was at least breaking even for the Post Office, but I see from a previous comment where the Post Office loses on it. Is there some authoritative info available about this? Also, I wonder if a "business reply" envelope to a charity costs them a lot less than the 55 cents it would cost me to return the envelope to "save us additional funds" like it often says on the envelope. Also, what prompts the three 1 cent stamps often on a "business reply" envelope?

Unknown said...

If the Post Office didn't charge them such a ridiculously low price they would send much less.
There should be a Do Not Mail list just like the Do Not Call list & both should apply to charities as well as political organizations.

Unknown said...

Hello Contra Farmer. It’s actually far more cost effective and more valuable to charities to contact supporters and prospective donors by direct mail. Online fundraising is expensive and typically has far fewer responses than direct mail so despite the cost to print and mail fundraising appeals, it is a better and more engaging communication for donors than email and online.

brian3i said...

My issue is not with charities that sell their mailing lists, but rather those that send incessant solicitations, sometimes several a week, after you have made a single donation. I figure, that if those charities have the money to send out such voluminous amounts of mail, then they don't need a donation and I just toss the additional solicitations into the trash unopened.

Unknown said...

Your blog did not discuss donors who have set up monthly or other regular donation frequencies on the charity's own website and STILL continue to be bombarded by solicitation emails from that very charity. What's up with that? This is not a privacy policy issue as discussed above, involving sharing or renting.

If charities are concerned about retaining donors, why drive them away by treating the donor as if they weren't already a loyal donor? Why don't charities take the time to identify or recognize a loyal donor who has set up regular, recurring donations on their website?

This practice is not only annoying but exceedingly frustrating; knowing that part of my donation each month is being wasted to mail out monthly or bimonthly solicitations needlessly to regular donors such as myself.

Would love to get/see a response

Unknown said...

I get irritated by charities that solicit donations through the mail and then solicit online as well. I think I will stop supporting most of the charities that do this.

Unknown said...

I send all charity “freebies” calendars, note pads, pens, cards, etc., to the Vietnam Veterans pickup each month. We get at least 30-50 a DAY. Unbelievable the waste.

JohnL said...

1) I save on time and postage by only writing one check every other year for double the amount to the charities I am interested in.
2) While watching TV, I go through all the solicitations I've received for the week, marking '1' next to the charity's name on a MS Word list I maintain. When it comes to donating I allow 4 mailings within 2 years and subtract the remaining number from my gift. For example, if I want to give $100 and have received 14 solicitations, then I actually write a check for $90 and write a note to that effect on what I mail back. Several charities have thereby stop sending me more than 1-2/yr.

Larry & Patricia & Lady Rufus, the 'Team' said...

I have a land line and a cell phone. Do you get requests by phone? I do on my land line. I used to answer all calls there. When I did, and I didn't recognize the charity, I simply asked, "Are you a member of Charity Navigator?" Invariably, no, and had never heard of it. So easy to decline. Now when my land line phone rings and I don't recognize the number, I pick up the receiver and place it next to my dog, who always howls when she hears it go off. Robocalls? Probably, but still fun, and not so many now.

Heidi Lenny said...

Sorry, but I think most of us who received more than a dozen unsolicited requests for money week want to know how to stop it - period. For example, I give to ASPCA annually but would you believe after I sent in my annual donation, received TWO more requests from them in less than 60 days. Enough already. Then there are the others I have never heard of who, no matter how many mailings I have tosse, d continue to send requests year after year. How do I stop the waste of paper, labor and postage?????