Charity Bawl

An open mailbox stuffed full of letters. Source:

When I was a younger man, I didn’t understand the meaning of the expression “No good deed goes unpunished.” Well, I do now. All I have to do is look in my mailbox.

You see, I’m basically a generous guy. I donate regularly to a lengthy list of charities and causes. I always have; it’s the way I was raised. Even in lean times when I can barely make ends meet, I’ll send $10 or $20 to support this or that group in its time of need, which, as it turns out, is always. I’m billions apart from the likes of Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, but I do what I can.

So, what has been my reward, aside from a small tax deduction and a nice, warm feeling, for this largesse? An ever-rising tidal wave of appeals–as many as a dozen a day–designed to guilt me into a donation. A punishing procession of abused animals, starving children, displaced families, alarmed environmentalists, disabled veterans, even aging nuns–all with their tin cups out.

They arrive not only from the usual suspects, but also from organizations I’ve never heard of before. Obviously, some of my favorite charities have been selling or sharing their donor lists, and I’m a big, fat target for every kindred nonprofit. The mailman must think I’m bucking for canonization.

Now, I understand these folks need to solicit money to continue doing whatever good it is they’re doing. I sympathize, really. But what ticks me off are some of the ways they go about it. There are the unsolicited “special gifts” that invariably get tossed out: key chains, rosary beads, calculators, (hideous) holiday cards, calendars, “Native American” blankets (made in China!), mailing labels (which I never use if I haven’t made a contribution). The thinking behind these cheesy gifts is blatant: We gave you something, now you give us something in return. No thanks.

The blue ribbon for most annoying solicitations, however, goes to those that come with pennies or nickels glued inside (“Just 2 cents a day can keep little N’gomo alive”). I suppose this tactic works, since so many organizations employ it. But it doesn’t work on me. I can’t help thinking: If they need money so much, why are they sending it to me? For the longest time, I would return the coins. No more. Now I peel them off and put them in a jar to save toward donations to my favorite charities, ones that don’t send me useless gifts or loose change.

What’s truly sad about this development is how it has hardened me. It used to pain me to throw away an appeal because I didn’t have the money. But the sheer volume has become intolerable. Recently, I calculated how much I would pay out in a month if I donated just $5 to every appeal I received in the mail. It came to nearly $850 a month, or more than $10,000 a year. It’s getting easier to sigh and throw the lot in the recycling bin.

No, I’m not going to stop giving, but I’m more selective. I wish charities would realize that it doesn’t pay to abuse their donors with constant solicitations. You could kill the Golden Goose that way. Instead of sending key chains or nickels, maybe they should invest in follow-up software that tells them that I’ve just donated so leave me alone for at least a couple of months. Or that they’ve approached me four times already this year with no luck, so I’m obviously not interested. There has to be a better way of doing good.

Just stop the punishment, please.