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Saturday, July 02, 2005

Junk Mail 101: Charitable Organizations Sell Your Name Too

Did you ever wonder why, when you contribute to just one charity, you get an avalanche of mail from all the others? I’ll tell you why. Your name breeds like rabbits. Moves with lightning speed from one philanthropic organization to another. It’s the call of the wild: ‘hey, we hooked someone today and we’ll sell you our names if you’ll sell us yours.’

Perhaps “hook” is a bit callous, but this side of the junk mail industry has to compete for your dollar just like the commercial companies selling you merchandise. And that’s just fine as long as the charity is spending the majority of the money on the actual “cause” and not on fundraising efforts. According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, non-profits should spend at least 65 percent of total expenses on program activities. Let’s see how some of them fare.

I picked seven large organizations, strictly by random, and have listed them in alphabetical order. If you don’t find your favorites, go to the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance and click on “Charity Reports” at the upper left column. If they aren’t registered with the BBB, go directly to their site and look under financial information. If it isn’t there and an e-mail to the charity doesn’t produce an answer, you might think twice about your next donation. Now, the players and the percentages devoted to their programs:

Alzheimer’s Association: 75%
American Diabetes Association: 76%
American Heart Association: 73%
Disabled American Veterans (DAV): 74%
March of Dimes: 76%
Muscular Dystrophy Association: 77%
Sierra Club: 90%



They all sell your name, averaging almost 8 cents each. As a matter of reference, the typical commercial name sells for about 12 to 15 cents each. And the philanthropic fundraisers are included in the total junk mail take of $4 billion on names and personal data each year.

Most charitable organizations don’t collect, and offer for sale, as much personal data as do the commercial junk mailers and large data brokers. It costs more to capture or add this information and most of them are on a limited budget. Selling your name is more of an income-replacement-tool, and probably offsets the necessity of having to solicit more donations.

On the political side, there’s a funny piece from the Washington Post dating back to July of 1993. The Great Minnesota Progressive blog posted How GOP Computers Got My Mama; And How they Might Get You. The WP reporter tells of his mother receiving a “special” junk mail invitation to President Reagan’s return from his historic European trip. She can’t go and tells her son she will RSVP to let them know, which he, of course, tells her isn’t necessary.

She does anyway, later making a contribution to the GOP, and, naturally, a deluge of mail follows. Finally, a few years later, she begs her son to get the Republican party off her back. “I send them money but they just keep asking for more,” she said. The son tries to explain the fundraiser’s strategy of “giving more means asking for more.” To make a long story short, the mother became ill and the family had to take over her affairs. It was then that they found the humongous amount of political and charitable junk mail, all resulting from her initial contribution. The story is well worth reading.

It isn’t fair, however, to put the fundraising community in the same category as the typical junk mailer. Aside from the fact that, in most cases we are talking about an honorable, worthwhile cause, they don’t really feed at the same trough when it comes to the obsession for control over your name and personal data. How many cases of identity theft have you heard of coming from doling out to the Sierra Club?

The moral of this story is that fundraising organizations are a part of the junk mail community. They do business in a similar way to the commercial companies but their higher purpose puts them on a different level. The telemarketing Do-Not-Call law recognized this and that is why they are exempted. So, pick your charity of choice and give as generously as you can, but make sure your donation is going to the right place.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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