More and more often I’ve noticed charities using fundraising techniques that leave a bad taste in my mouth. Part of this is probably due to confirmation bias – it’s easy to remember charities that use questionable techniques and to forget ones that don’t cross the line.
A few of the techniques I find most distasteful:
1) Street canvassers. I’d never come across this before moving to an urban area but in my city is very common for representatives from various foreign and domestic aid groups to stand on the busiest streets and ask for donations as you walk by. They are polite but persistant, only accept donations through credit cards and are somehow never have any pamphlets or business cards on them to help one contact the organization in question for more information. I suspect they may work on commission.
2) Fear mongering. This is a technique used by charities and non-profits across the political and social spectrum. Even when I agree with their political position, and especially when I secretly wonder how long it will be until some of their less macabre prophesies come true, I despise this technique. Yes, there’s always a small chance that any country will systemically strip away certain (or all of the..) rights and freedoms that we currently enjoy. But I don’t think that my small donation will stop it. And I really don’t think that any good comes from scaring the hell out of your donors…especially when we all know the same stories will be dredged up at the next fundraising campaign or election cycle.
3) Requests for More Donations. These may arrive through flyers, email, phone calls, door-to-door canvassing or other methods that I luckily have yet to experience. I realize that these things are done because, well, they work. Enough people will give to make these drives worthwhile. I’m one of those donors who doesn’t like to be pestered, though. When I can afford it I will donate again.
4. Freebies. A few years ago, shortly after an emergency-room visit, the hospital that treated me mailed me a free reusable canvas bag and asked for a donation. I hadn’t asked for the bag but felt as strange about sending in a donation as I did keeping the free gift without “paying” for it. At the very least I wish they would have asked me up front if I wanted to be added to their mailing list. Medicine should only be mixed with fundraising under the supervision of a physician…or something.
5. Selling/Renting Out Mailing Lists. I’ve stopped donating to more than one charity who shared my information with other groups. Yes, I may want to save the seals, but that doesn’t mean I have the funds or energy to also save the aardvarks, elephants, chimpanzees, and billy goats. I did not know until fairly recently that you can ask charities not to share your information with other groups. In the future I will be donating only to organizations who have a do not share my information list.
I like mailing lists that focus on solutions to the social issue/problem, don’t ask for donations in the body of the text (although a link to their website for more information about donating is ok) and are rare. As in, maybe I’ll hear from them once or twice a year.
While browsing http://www.charitynavigator.org/ I came across http://www1.networkforgood.org/, an organization that helps individuals fundraise for the charities of their choice. It also enables people to donate anonymously which would eliminate all of the things that annoy me about donating to nonprofit organizations. I haven’t tried it yet but when I do I’ll share my experiences with it here.