I wish I had known how to help my stepfather be an effective donor, but he was beyond listening to reason by the time he married my mother. So while I couldn’t change his giving patterns, perhaps sharing his most ineffective habit in print will help others who are feeling overwhelmed by donation requests.
Lyle could not, not respond to every plea for funds he received in the mail. Bogus or legitimate, whatever the cause he stuck a dollar bill in the return envelope for every request he received, added a stamp and mailed it. Because he used a return address label on the envelope, every one of those dollars he mailed resulted in more “gimme letters” from the same source.”
Included with many of those money requests were things like note pads, address labels, greeting cards, packets of seeds and useless trinkets. When I tried to talk to my mom about what he was doing she said, “They spent money to send those things to us so we have to pay for them.”
No you don’t, Mom. You have no obligation whatsoever to pay for unsolicited materials and every legal right not to.
While Lyle would drive miles out of his way to save 27 cents on a loaf of bread, he thought nothing of sticking $10 to $20 a week, $1.00 at a time in those envelopes. That comes to $520 to $1,040 a year, not counting the money he spent on stamps. If he had used that money instead for a few larger donations he could have made a difference for the charities he chose to support, if he had chosen wisely. And if he had written checks to provide a record of what he had done, he would have gotten a tax deduction too.
Informed decisions are wise decisions. Just because you recognize the name of a charity doesn’t mean the money you donate to it will be put to good use. There are several organizations that rate charities and it is worth your time to peruse the valuable information they post online. My favorite independent evaluator is Charity Navigator. In addition to rating organizations whose IRS filings indicate revenues in excess of a million dollars, they have helpful information on their website including a great list of Tips for Donors. If there are problems with an organization whose name you type in, a Donor Advisory will flash on the screen detailing their concerns.
Knowing how to cope with all those “gimme letters” in the mail can go a long way toward eliminating the frustration they create because we can’t give to all of them. Effective giving stretches your donations while providing positive feedback for your gifts.
Blessings on your efforts to give effectively,