I get inundated with requests to donate money to worthy causes—most of my hardcopy mail consists of such appeals. Some I recycle unopened, some I open and glance over before recycling, and a very few I respond to. I’ve started making some rules for myself about which ones I respond to:
- Ones that are based just on emotional appeals with pictures of the supposed beneficiaries: recycle.
- Ones that send me letters frequently (more than twice a year): recycle unopened.
- Ones that tell me when I last donated and how much: seriously consider donating the same amount or more again, as long as it has been at least 10 months since the last donation.
- Donations to politicians: recycle unopened.
- Ones that I’ve looked up on various charity-watch websites and determined to be scams (or at least very inefficient charities): recycle unopened.
- Year-end appeals: recycle. (I prefer to make my donations in the spring or summer—trying to guilt-trip people who may have winter depression or holiday stress strikes me as too cynical a ploy.)
There are a few exceptions to these guidelines:
- Newsletters from organizations that I have signed up for newsletters from are welcome (Southern Poverty Law Center, Jewel Theatre, Museum of Art and History, Friends of the Santa Cruz Public Libraries, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, … )
- Notices of special events from organizations that I donate to don’t count against the “frequent nagger” penalty, but end-of-year donation requests and “matching-fund” donation requests most certainly do.
- I do give to political campaigns occasionally (which is how I got on the “sucker” lists for political donations), but I do it on my own timing and never in response to mailings. The ones asking by mail for me to donate are rarely for politicians I would want to support, even though they may belong to the same political party as people I have supported. If someone is taking money from billionaires, then they don’t need my money and aren’t going to listen to my voice—they’ve already been bought, and I’m not about to throw my money away supporting yet another voice for the billionaires.
My biggest donations are done by payroll reduction, split between United Way, Planned Parenthood, and Second Harvest Food Bank. My next biggest donation is to Santa Cruz Shakespeare, which is going to need a lot this year in order to build a new performance space, now that UCSC has refused to let them continue to use the Festival Glen (a very short-sighted decision on UCSC’s part, in my opinion, as the community goodwill and press coverage were worth a lot, not even mentioning the rent they collected). After this year, I may be splitting my theater donations up more (I didn’t donate to Jewel Theatre or West Performing Arts this year, but probably will next year).
I give token amounts or membership dues to a number of charitable organizations. From most of them, what I’d like is a monthly newsletter by e-mail (so I can see what they are doing) and an annual reminder that it is time to renew (with the date of the last donation). Hardcopy newsletters are ok, but e-mail generally wastes less of the donated money.
I’ve started dropping from my list any that send several donation requests a year, hoping to double dip by taking advantage of donor forgetfulness. Generally I start by missing a year—if they send me a single letter saying when I last donated and asking if I missed donating to them, then I generally renew. If they start flooding my mailbox with generic pleas for money, I drop them.
This year, I’m thinking of giving to two organizations that have done particularly good appeals—ones that stood out from the pile of trash that usually comes in the mail:
I think I’ll give some extra money to Friends of the Library, and a one-time donation to UNICEF, just to reward them for having more imaginative campaigns that stood out against the relentless give-me-your-money-or-the-baby-dies guilt-tripping of most charitable organizations.