The Charitable Count

About 15 years ago, a friend lent me a book, I believe the title was “Holy Terror” and I do not recall the author.  I expected to read a book about the history of religious conflict.  It turned out to be a book about marketing religious organizations. 

From what I recall, the book chronicled the rise of the Moral Majority in USA political life.  Specifically, it credited the leaders of that organization with developing a computer program to organize the mailing list, keep interested people informed of the group’s activities and ideas, and most importantly solicit (more) donations.  Now, just about every organization from the National Parks to niche political PAC’s use versions of this technology.  Daily, we receive newsletters, organization magazines, and requests for donations.

While I hold similar views to many charitable organizations, a couple of statistics that I have come across of the years beg questions about how these systems raise funds.  First, there is the 1% rule.  If you send out 1,000,000 requests for funds and 1% of the receivers respond you have 10,000 responses.  If each sends only $25, you have made a quarter of a million dollars, minus the expense of sending out the mailing.  I once thought of starting “The WV Wildlife Sanctuary Trust” to see if sending out requests to let wild animals live on my property would fill up the bank account…. okay, just kidding.

The next motivation that I came across for fund raising was to generate “membership”, not funds themselves.  For all the mailings that I receive from the same organizations throughout the year, I wondered how my contribution went anywhere except to ask me for more money.  The statistic that I came across was that the funds that individuals send is a small fraction of the total funds that most groups raise each year.  The majority comes from government agencies and foundations… $50 from me, $50M from the Dept. of ???.  The way that the organizations have clout to request millions of dollars is to have membership.  Walk up to the Global Bucks Bank with an idea for funding water projects in undeveloped countries, carrying 100,000, half a million, or several million members, and you are likely to get different levels of funding.  In exchange, the organization writes a nice piece about the Global Bucks Bank in their newsletter that goes out to 100K, 500K, or M’s of folks homes.  Nice PR.

Just the other day, I heard a news report that charitable receipts were down this year.  The issue was less that individuals were giving less, but that the contract companies which send out the letters, and make the phone calls were charging more.  Thirty-seven cents of the dollar raised by the cold-call companies was passed along to the group.  Yes, 37 cents. Thus, if I sent in $50, $18.50 went to the group and $31.50 went to the soliciting agency.  Talk about Holy Terror!

For some years, I have thought about collecting and counting how many solicitations I receive from what groups.  A blog is an easy way to pass on this information.  I shall keep a tally near my place at the table.  Each evening, I will sort out the “junk mail”, noting what groups send requests for money.  At the end of the month, I will take the tally and post it.  Skim through the list to contemplate how charitable our society has become.


About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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4 Responses to The Charitable Count

  1. Barneysday says:

    There are solicitation companies that charge in excess of 80 percent. If I hear a “boiler room” in the background that is often a tip off.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Other tip-offs are the pause between when I answer the phone and the boiler-room solicitor responds… greetings to my first name, as I go by my middle name… greetings to my wife’s maiden name… For this project, I will only be counting mailings. I can hardly wait for the political season to really get rolling!

  2. The Vicar says:

    While I don’t receive many solicitations, my father in-law had worked his way onto many mailing lists with years of $10.00 donations to causes. Often he would receive 5 different letters, identical on the outside (same post mark), from 5 different causes on varied sides of the political spectrum. When we had his mail shifted to a PO Box for his safety, I received upwards of 40 letters a day requesting financial help. As I was sorting mail one day and dumping it into the recycle bin at the Post Office, I pulled a nickel from a request which noted “this nickel could make a difference in a child’s life”. As I was discarding the envelop I heard the clerk tell the man at the counter he was $.05 short on his postage. I leap to his rescue with the nickel from the junk mail. It turned out to be an old neighbor of mine. That is about the only time this avalanche of mail has ever proved beneficial.

    Its been a year since my father in-law died. While the mail has slowed, I still receive about 20 requests per week. I’ve filled out the Post Office notification to marketers, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Now that the stream of mail has slowed, I’ve taken to returning anything in a postage paid envelopes with a little note “Deceased, please remove from list”. Only one marketer has bothered to write and express their condolences, though I’m sure many regret the loss of an active contributor.

    • hermitsdoor says:

      I am enjoying Mac’s Arizona Highways magazines which you had redirected to my mail box. I’ll let you know if I start receiving some of his junk mail too! Love the nickel story. I have a penny sitting at my place at the table right out.

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