That seems awfully harsh doesn't it? Well it is, and as a semi-professional fund-raiser myself, I do not recommend it. Everybody should be giving something to charity, to their church or to causes they believe in. It's how communities address important problems and issues and solve them. It's how we take care of abused animals and children, provide shelter for battered women and feed the poor. It's how we support people we want to elect to be our representatives in government.
So what's a bunch of kind-hearted schmucks like you and me to do? In an ideal world, people would send out straightforward fund-raising letters. We'd look at the cause and decide if it was something we wanted to support and mail them a check. The problem is, that kind of letter doesn't make a lot of money.
I used to write them, I know. I tried to write honest, straight-forward appeal letters, but I'm afraid I wasn't very effective. I simply stated the case, what we needed money for and why. I rebelled at "pandering" and hand-wringing and playing upon the guilt thing with people. Some of those appeals actually cost more in printing and postage than we got back in donations.
The ones that work are the ones with sad-eyed starving orphans, wounded dolphins and portrayals of evil politicians scheming to steal your food, starve your grandma or take away your guns. These things are pandering of the first order. They're full of disturbing images, hand-wringing and laced with guilt. Many charities make quite a lot of money on these direct mail campaigns. They are easy for the charity and effective in that they raise significant dollars. Many small charities use them because they are less expensive than hiring a fund-raising staff and can raise millions if you can proved them with a few heart-wrenching photographs and some heart-breaking stories.
You should know, however that money raised via these fund-raising "professionals" only yields about 40% or less back to the cause. This type of fund-raising is expensive. In most cases 60% or more of the "take" is eaten up in mailing, printing and consultant fees. It is not uncommon for the first two or three campaigns to cost more than they bring in.
So if you want to donate 35 cents out of every dollar you send to a charity, simply tuck a check into the response envelope and your guilt may be assuaged in short order. There is a premium for giving in this way, but it involves very little work and can yield big returns to the charity. The wildlife refuge you support may get back a million dollars from this campaign out of the 2.5 million that was donated. The flip side of that coin is that it is unlikely the refuge would ever have raised that kind of money any other way without an expensive development program that would distract from the work being done by the charity.
If you have a moral objection to paying the 60% tithe to the direct mailer, you can do this. Write a check to the charity, look up their address, put the money in your own envelope with your own stamp and send it directly to them. Don't mention the direct mail campaign. Mark the check "for your work". If you identify yourself as responding to the direct mail campaign, the charity is obligated under contract to forward that check to the bank account where the direct mailer is collecting donations where it will incur the mailer's fees just as if you'd sent it in the response envelope.
Choose a handful of charities you like to contribute to and repeat this process. They will then receive 100% of your contribution and you can rest assured your favorite charities are receiving regular support from you. You would be the kind of donor charities dream about.
You can't blame a small charity that needs a million dollars a year in operating funds for choosing a method that generates that much money over the prospect of slowly starving while trying to do it on their own.
One last note. Occasionally you'll see someone griping about direct mail appeals on Facebook or somewhere and suggesting you send an angry letter in the response envelope. This does no good, zero, zip, nada! Sending stuff back in the response envelope costs the charity that hired the direct mail company a lot of postage. The charity will never know about what you did. All they will know is that they didn't do as well on this mailing and will probably be encouraged to buy another donor list from the company.
And THAT'S how you wind up on getting so many appeal letters. The direct mail company sells one client's lists to its other clients. The good news is that if you never respond to a direct mailing, you eventually get taken off the lists. It takes years, but eventually they give up wasting their time sending you stuff.
Should direct mail companies be done away with? I have to say that, even as expensive as they are, NO. Too many small charities doing very good work depend absolutely on them. If you just want more of your money to go to the charity you love, then send it to them. Don't wait for an envelope with a starving puppy on it. Send $5 a month to the ASPCA or Tyler Rescue Ministries or Azleway Boys Ranch or Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge, Boys and Girls Club, your local food bank or any other charity you care about. Specify that you don't want to be on a mailing list and especially don't want to have your name sent to a direct mailer. It will save the charity a lot of postage over the years and they'll get all of your contribution instead of just a fraction of it.