The Charity “Model”

Before and during the holiday season, we were inundated with supplications from various charities, especially the ones to whom we’ve given in the past. We’ve managed to gently request that most of them stop calling – which has to be done on a charity by charity basis, because they’re exempt from the blanket provisions of the “do not call” list – and we’ve also informed them that we will not EVER pledge or respond to telecommunications requests for funds.  Even so, the postal and internet supplications continue ad infinitum… or so it seems.

No matter what one gives, it’s never enough. There are more homeless orphans, political prisoners, third world inhabitants needing medical care, starving refugees, endangered species, abandoned and homeless pets… the list and the needs are truly endless.  I understand that.

What drives me up the wall is that many of those charities and causes in which I believe and which I support seem to increase their petitions – even though my wife and I only give to them once each year and request that they not bother us more than once each year.  Now… I know that almost all fundraisers are taught to “develop” their clientele and press for more funds from those whose donations show they are sympathetic.  For what it’s worth, I’ve served notice that pestering us for more support is more likely to get them less… and that other worthy and less obnoxious causes may well get what they used to receive.

There’s also the question of “gratitude.”  One state university with which my wife and I are acquainted has adopted a de facto policy of not acknowledging “small” contributions, those under $1,000.  Apparently, the development office can’t be bothered.  Interestingly enough, the small “Ivy League” college from which I graduated responds to donations of any size with not only a receipt, but a personal letter, often with a hand-penned personal notation, to donations of any size – and in the early years after my graduation, some of my contributions were modest indeed.  Just guess which institution has been more successful in raising funds, and has an alumni participation rate of over 70%.

In her time as the head of several local non-profit arts/music organizations, my wife has had to raise funds, and she made it a policy to hand-write thank-yous to every single donor.  In every case, the organization was in debt when she took over, and in every case, the number of donors rose, and she turned it over to her successor with a healthy surplus.  She’s adopted a similar policy as the chair of a national educational music association… and again the outcome of recognizing donors has resulted in a significant and healthy increase in donations and support.

Yes, in economic hard-times, people often cannot contribute as much or as often as once they may have, even though the needs are often greater, but those who give don’t like to be pestered and guilt-tripped, and they would like a little personal recognition for their concern and generosity.

It’s something to think about anyway.


3 thoughts on “The Charity “Model””

  1. Wayne Kernochan says:

    In the run-up to the holidays, I happened to be in an office next to a telecall outfit to whom the local firefighters had outsourced their annual solicitation of contributions. Everyone was approaching the job with enthusiasm and a will to see the drive succeed, but it was plain from overhearing the conversations that there was a push to call as many people as possible, even if they were not going to give, to try to push them to give more than they initially said, and to get minimally trained people to do the calling job on the cheap. I don’t think the firefighters would have done better; but I do think that many of the people contacted were left far more annoyed and more likely to avoid the call next year than necessary.

    I was taught in B school that this was the difference between marketing and sales: marketing understood that just trying to sell the most at the least cost was counterproductive over the long term. In my stints in businesses and consulting with them, I find that perhaps the majority of organizations don’t get the message — because the costs are more obvious. Instead, they apply the latest business theory blindly. And it doesn’t affect them obviously even in the long run, because most other firms are doing the same thing. Many firms in my industry still haven’t figured out that bad help desks have long-term bad effects on the bottom line.

    I suppose this is just to agree with you, and to say that this kind of personal recognition is not only more effective, it makes good sense as a business strategy in a lot more areas than giving.

  2. R. Hamilton says:

    Treating people as human beings first rather than simply as revenue providing units is usually more effective, especially if one wishes to deal with them more than once.

  3. Mayhem says:

    I am currently living in London, where one of the perils of the streets is the everpresent ‘chugger’ or ‘Charity Mugger’. The charities hire attractive young students to stand at the exits to the underground stations and convince people to donate to particular causes.
    The temporary donations, like during Breast Cancer Week or similar are people with buckets – you’ll see them for a day or two and then thats it for the year. They take loose change and are grateful for what they get.

    The worse ones are the established organisations – Red Cross, Greenpeace, Oxfam etc. They are specifically banned from taking cash donations, instead they ask you sign up for a regular donation of ‘just a few pounds’ directly from your bank account. The reason being once you sign up, you’ll often forget you did and they can keep extracting funds out of you until you specifically cancel the payments.

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