by Richard S. Lee
I identify a “good mail day” as one with no bills and few tugs on my sleeve by charities. By that definition, Thursday, Jan. 2, was a GREAT mail day: no bills and no tugs on my sleeve by charities. Fact is, it was the first such day in not-so-recent memory.
By contrast, Tuesday, Jan. 21, brought a post-MLK Holiday mail of Johnstown Flood proportions both for bills and charities, and for this, our poor postal carrier had to trudge through the snow. And this deluge occurred in Zip Code 19031. If I think I’m put-upon, I can only imagine how some of you in 19118 must suffer! I’m sure that charities, like burglars, follow the Willie Sutton Dictum in going to 19118: “It’s where the money is” — true at least in perception.
Some years ago, I gave a few dollars to one Native American charity — a school, as I remember. In return, I got a coffee mug. Nice. I also got my name sold to X other Native American schools and tribal charities. Not so nice. But that’s what market-driven charities do — and, believe me, they’re ALL market-driven. One more example: A few dollars sent to one veterans’ organization has mushroomed to the point where I am now acclaimed the greatest patriot since George Washington, and asked to support every cause even remotely military. (Hey, I served my country. Isn’t that enough?)
Did you ever wonder why many charities give you choices about how much to give, using handy little check-boxes? Give frugally, and they sell your name to other charities of similar type. Give over a certain amount known only to their decision-makers, and they won’t share your name, preferring to keep any present and possible future largesse for themselves. Before I became a virtual non-giver, I was (to say the least!) a frugal giver. That’s why everyone came a-tugging at my sleeve. Buy the Lee name! Better a cheap gift, they reasoned, than none at all.
The charities that really tickle me are those that identify their mailings as “Flourtown Campaign,” as though I were part of a giant horde all set to rally in the Acme parking lot in support of one form of research or another. For all I know, I might be their only recipient in 19031.
Is there no defense against this onslaught? There is some, but precious little. You can write the Direct Mail Marketing Association to have your name removed. This would work like the national do-not-call phone list, except for the fact that relatively few charities are part of the DMMA. You could also write each charity (at 46 cents a pop!) asking to be removed from their list, with no guarantee this would happen. Occasionally, a charity will allow you to opt-out of sharing your name with others, but always in uncharitably small type!
To add a dollop of fun, you can go to Charity Navigator on the Internet. If it lists the name of the charity you’d like to know more about, its site will open like a stop-motion flower to reveal the star rating (none to four) and other vital information about that charity, including financial data. Unfortunately, many charities are not listed on Navigator, in which case you’re on your own except for the general tips Charity Navigator may provide.
Charity Navigator will dispel any illusions you may harbor about the economic efficiency of many charities. Even the four-star ones use what to me are percentages of donations for salaries and fund-raising expenses that would shame a Wall Street predator — and many of the no-star ones verge on being scams. (One much-promoted veterans’ charity, for instance, is shown on Navigator as being under indictment in its home state of California for fraud. Only a trickle of its funding actually reaches the ex-soldiers it purports to serve; most goes for executive salaries and perks.)
If you can’t get rid, get even. Apparently, many people believe you must send a charity something when they send you stuff you didn’t ask for: pens, calendars, notepads, greeting cards and the ubiquitous mailing labels. Not so; you are in no way obligated to send them anything. I get even by recycling most of the things and using a few. (Yes, I do feel like I’m pulling the wings off flies when I take the stamp, the three pennies, the nickel, the $2.50 check and their moral equivalents from charity mailings that I then discard. But that’s the risk they take; isn’t it?)
I know that at this point in my diatribe, saying I am a charitable person would be like Richard Nixon claiming “I am not a crook,” but it’s true. I do my fair share in supporting my church. I give to several “sheet of paper” charities that simply state their needs and ask my help. (Most of these are local; we have written about some for this newspaper, and we have a personal connection with others).
As for the rest, I can’t take the time to run each one through Charity Navigator. I can and do take the time to run each one through the recycler.
What about mailed-in catalogs? Don’t get me started!
With this item, Richard, 86, renews his curmudgeon’s license for 2014. He and wife, Missy, residents of Flourtown, jointly write “Facts of Life” columns for the Local. From the relative calm of 19031, they have also co-written more than a score of coping and career books for young adults.