Friday, January 15, 2010

Charity Stops at Home

Charity Stops at Home

Anyone who has ever donated to a charity knows that the punishment is swift and sure: The charity begins to dun you constantly for more money. It's a reasonable strategy for them, because people who have given money before are the most likely to give again. Maybe not right away, but with a few more dunning messages, reminding the soft-hearted target that there is suffering and injustice in the world, the target will surely give in.

The question is, How do we cope with this? The pile of paper mail from charities in our front hall grows at the rate of half a centimeter a day. If e-mail had thickness, the pile of trashy e-communications from charities would be sticking out the side of my laptop. They arrive faster than I can delete them. Then there are the phone calls. Fortunately, we can now usually identify them because our phone displays the originating number, and it's usually a toll-free call. Of course, we have to run for the phone to verify this.

Fortunately, we can make a particular caller stop by asking them to stop calling us. They usually respect that. (You do have to answer the phone once.) You can make a respectable charity stop sending you e-mail. But I know of no way to make the flood of paper mail stop. Actually, I don't really want it to stop. I just want it to slow down.

I have thought about various approaches, and here is one that might work:

The next time you get a piece of mail from a charity, use the postage-paid envelope to send the following letter back:

Dear Committee for Saving Everyone Everywhere,

Thank you for your mail alerting me to the plight of the penguin people of Patagonia. I shall certainly be able to spare $100 for their cause. I am, in fact, willing to give you $200 a year for such causes. I think it's reasonable for you to contact me twice a year. So here's the deal. In six months I will send you the $100, provided I do not hear from you before then. With every communication I receive from you, I agree to pay you $100, but if I get N pieces of e-mail before I send you anything, then I will wait N/2 years before sending you the $100N dollars. Got that? If you send me 1 piece of mail in the next six months, that will make 2 (given the one I just received). So you have to wait 1 year to get your $200. But if I receive another piece of mail before the year is out, you will have to wait 18 months to get your $300. And so forth.

I am looking forward to a long and productive relationship, where just as I send you your $100, I receive the next piece of mail alerting me to the need for the following six months. All it takes is a little will power on your part, holding off on sending me a request until I have had time to react to the previous one.

If you exceed your quota, I will respond with a reminder of what the policy is and how long you will have to wait to receive your next payment. I hope this information will help you control yourselves.

Sincerely, etc.

You should feel free to change the amounts and time intervals. You might send $1000 a year provided they contact you once a year, or $50 a month if they contact you once a month, and so forth.

Now, of course, I doubt that any one person's adopting this strategy will have much effect. They won't change their practices until there is a mass movement of charitable donors determined to force them to change. The idea is simple. Spread the word! Eventually we can reduce the flood of incessant, annoying, tree-destroying, guilt-inducing, space-devouring mail.

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