Harper Grey: Donation Dilemmas


The Savvy Shopper - Harper Grey

I know that charitable organizations rely on donations from people like me to support the people they help. And I like to think I do my share: my husband and I donate annually to the children’s hospital and our local NPR station. Last year we gave everyone goats for Christmas (no, not REAL goats. Virtual goats from Oxfam. Our relatives just got cards saying they got a goat, but that it was currently residing in a third world country. Everyone was thrilled).

So while I’m certainly no Rockefeller, I’m fine with charities marketing their saving of the world to me. But sometimes I think that perhaps these organizations could use a tip or two regarding their marketing campaigns.


Guilt can work. Or not. For guilt to work on me, it depends on whether or not I should be feeling guilty. For instance, I listen to NPR every day. I even look forward to some of the programs and tune in for those particularly (who doesn’t love Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me?) So when my local public radio station hosts a fund drive, I always donate. But there’s definitely guilt involved. The radio personalities always come on with their pleas that include, “If you’re one of our listeners out there that enjoys our programming, you should know that without donations from wonderful people like you, there wouldn’t be any public radio.” And, “If you’ve been listening to the fund drive for the last two days and haven’t donated, now’s the time. We know you love our programming and you want it to continue. Without you . . . it won’t.” Ouch. Alright, alright, I’m calling already.

On the other hand, sometimes guilt backfires for non-profits. I hate getting those personalized address labels in the mail from various organizations. They’re usually from non-profits that employee disabled people or battered women or some demographic that is sorely in need of my money. And the labels do have my name and address on them. The only problem is . . . I didn’t order them. Nope. The organization bought a mailing list with my name on it. Then they made me personalized labels and packaged said labels with a letter telling me about the needs of the people they serve. They try to make me feel guilty with a plea like this, “If you don’t send $9.95 for the labels we’ve so lovingly made for you, then Charles won’t have a job soon. So he’ll be homeless.” Or, “These mailing labels are our gift to you . . . but please send $9.95 today so that this battered single mom won’t have to go back to her nasty abusive husband.” Argh. Don’t make something for me as a “gift” then tell me that if I don’t send money bad things will happen.

Shock and Awe

Some charities like to rely on the shock and awe technique. As a sometime writer of fiction and all the time proponent of dramatic behavior, this technique seems like a pretty apt one to me, given the circumstances. After all, the charity wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a MAJOR EMERGENCY RIGHT NOW, right? I have to admit that I start reaching for my wallet when I hear about cute little kids who are starving to death, or cute little kids who are illiterate or cute little kids who have cancer. The photos of adorable, doe-eyed children, accompanied by their tales of woe get me every time. This cutie has incurable cancer? And we need money for research NOW? OK, I’m on it! I’m shocked . . . I’m awed . . . I’m moved to act.

But shock and awe doesn’t always work on me. Sometimes it just makes me furious (unfortunately, my fury is directed at the charity… not their cause). I recently received a mailer requesting donations for an animal-rights non-profit. I like animals. And I hate to think about them being mistreated. So I just might have sent this organization some money. But their campaign really turned me off. I opened the letter to find two dozen or so photos of animals in various stages of death and disease. My six-year-old was in the kitchen with me and said, “What’s that, Mommy?” Oh nothing. Just some photos of cute puppy dogs starving and shivering in the cold.

These were absolutely horrific photographs that I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to see. I didn’t want to see them. I was angry that the charity actually sent those photos out to me so that I would open the letter, unprepared for the carnage I saw (luckily, my six-year-old was across the counter and didn’t actually see the photos). I understand that the animals in the photos were real animals in need. But I would rather have had the charity tell me their stories. If the intent was shock, it worked. If the intent was to get my money, it didn’t.

Making Assumptions About Me

I think it’s kind of creepy when an organization finds out information about me and uses it to campaign for money. I don’t like letters that start out with, “We know that good ______ like you…” or, “As someone who has donated to animal-cruelty prevention organizations, we’re sure you’ll want to be involved with our charity.”  Really? Well, tell me about your organization and I’ll make up my own mind. Just because I gave money to the ASPCA doesn’t mean I’m a sucker who automatically pulls out my checkbook at the slightest provocation.

How to Get My Donation

Here’s a few tips on how to get my donation:

  1. Tell me about your organization. Tell me a bit about your history and give me something that tells me that you’re a legit organization.
  2. Tell me where my money will go. Tell me stories about the people you help and how my money will help them even more. If possible, be specific about how my money will help.
  3. If you’ve purchased my name from a mailing list, don’t allude to that . . . I’m just going to be creeped out by the fact that you have my information. I understand that you’re buying a list so you can increase the possibility that your expensive mailer is going to result in a donation. Just don’t try to stroke my ego by telling me you know how much money I’ve given to other people in the past.
  4. Just ask me for money. Raising money is what you do. You’re not eBay or Walmart. You’re a charity. Don’t try to sell me “gifts.”