Sunday, September 26, 2010

Faith and Hope in Charity

I support a handful of charitable organizations. Each month, I try to make some room in the budget to support some worthy cause for the less fortunate and disadvantaged. I'm not all full of myself about it. I just feel an obligation to help out those less fortunate than myself, because there but for the grace of God, as they say. I should know. I've been there myself. I used to have a developmentally challenged son who was afflicted with cerebral palsy and, earlier this year, I got a taste of what it's like to lose my job and a sizable portion of my family's income. When shit happens, it sure is nice to come across somebody with a shovel.

I've noticed, though, that the more I give to charities, the more of their unsolicited mail fills my mailbox each week. That's because most charities have an irritating habit of sharing their mailing lists with other charities. It's like feeding seagulls at the beach. You start by tossing a few tidbits to one or two gulls and, before you know it, you're swarmed by a whole flock of them, some of which crap on your head.

I understand that the charities do this to make a few extra bucks. I also know that most charities provide an opt-out check box in itty-bitty little fine print on the reply form that you send back along with your cheque, that tells them not to share your contact information with others. I do suspect that at least some charities don't actually check whether their supporters have checked this checkbox when checking in the cheque, because I make a point of always checking it, yet I still get reams of stuff from charities that I've never heard of, and have never supported. Even if they do honor the opt-out check box, I still say "don't be punishing those who are good enough to support your cause by encouraging others to flood their mailboxes with junk". At most, there should be an opt-in box, asking donators to specifically give their permission to share their info, and that info should not be shared unless said box is checked.

My other bone of contention is the silly "gifts" that many charities send in hopes of encouraging people to support them. By "gifts", I mean the calendars, the note pads, the greeting cards and the return address stickers. Oh my gawd, the return address stickers! I have a whole freakin' drawer full of return address stickers! I'd better not move for the next ninety-two years!

The greeting cards are the next most common irritants, especially around Christmas time. In the past week, I received no less than four envelopes stuffed with Christmas cards from different charities. I didn't need them, even though a couple of sets were, admittedly, quite attractive, because I have two shoe boxes full of charity-provided greeting cards, most of them for Christmas, that I've collected over the years! I'm flattered that you think otherwise, but I'm sorry to have to admit that I just don't have that many friends! I'm covered until Christmas, 2061!

I shred all the stuff that I don't keep, partly because it has my name and address, etc. on it, and partly because it takes up less space in my waste basket after being shredded into tiny strips of paper, yet I completely filled an entire waste basket with just one week's worth of charity Christmas cards. I pity the trees that died in vain.

Some charities go completely over the top. I've received tote bags, pens, desk calendars and even an umbrella for cryin' out loud! I can't help but wonder how many of these packages these charities mail out and how much it costs them. Why don't they just keep their junk gifts and put the savings into their cause?

As it happens, at least one charity which writes me regularly must have heard this very question from others like me, because they've explained it. Quite simply, they say that it works. Sending out this crap seems to increase donations, and the extra money that it brings in more than offsets the money that they spend in sending it. In my case, at least, they sort of shot themselves and their peers in the foot by admitting that because I've since resolved to stop supporting any charity that inundates me with junk gifts, now that I know that rewarding the behavior only encourages more of it.

I don't mean to denigrate charities or to discourage my readers from supporting them. Charities rely on generous donations from their supporters, especially in economically challenged times like these. I personally intend to continue donating regularly to those charities that I support. But, if you're reading this and you happen to be in any way affiliated with any charity, please take this rant to heart, and point your superiors at this post. I support charities, not because I need calendars or address labels or greeting cards or umbrellas, but because I just want to give a little something back. I suspect and hope that others like me feel the same way. Don't alienate us by punishing us for helping out.

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