The Connected World of Charitable Fundraising
See Related Diagram
in the April/May 2012 issue of the Charity Rating Guide &
You open your mailbox one morning and
there inside is a letter from a charity asking for your support.
You read it and are inspired to donate, writing out a modest check
and popping it in the mail. You feel good knowing that you sacrificed
something to support a cause you think is important. But then, within
a couple months' time, you notice that your mailbox is no longer
large enough for the shocking uptick in letters you are receiving.
It was slow at first; a few charity appeals trickled in each week.
But now you are getting upwards of five letters a day from charities
you have never donated to, and many more you have never even heard
of. You wonder, "How did these people get my name and address?"
More than likely you donated to the charity
through a for-profit, professional fundraising company it hired
to conduct its solicitation campaigns via direct mail. When you
respond to such a letter with a donation, your contact information
suddenly becomes a hot commodity for fundraising companies and all
their other charity clients. You are now on their lists as a prime
target for more charity solicitations. Donating in response to charity
telemarketing calls often produces the same result. Some charities
hire multiple companies to solicit donations, creating the potential
for an exponential increase in the number of organizations with
which your information may be sold, rented, or exchanged.
What's worse, most of your donation is
often used to pay the fundraiser's fees, leaving little to fund
the charitable programs you are intending to support. CharityWatch
has reviewed many contracts between charities and their fundraisers
that guarantee the charity only 10% to 15% of the donations raised
on the charity's behalf, and sometimes less. If you receive several
appeals each month from the same charities, chances are that most
of your donations are being used to do little more than fund more
Diagram provides just a small example of professional fundraising
companies and some of their recent charity clients. The charities
on this diagram currently receive D or F ratings from CharityWatch
for high fundraising costs and for spending too little on the programs
donors are intending to support.
Some charities, including some on this
diagram, may have privacy policies that prohibit the companies they
hire from sharing some or all of your information. If you are concerned
about your contact information and donation history being sold,
rented, or exchanged, ask the charity you are considering donating
from being shared. Simply asking whether or not the charity has
it reserves the right to share all of your information.
Some charities use professional fundraisers
responsibly by targeting solicitations to a limited number of donors
who are more likely to give to their cause, and spending a small
amount of money on fundraising relative to the contributions they
bring in as a result. You might consider allowing such groups to
rent, sell, or exchange your contact information as a means of generating
revenue to help fund the programs you care about. But be sure to
ask the charity how, if at all, it screens organizations prior to
sharing donors' information with them. The charity you donated to
may be a highly efficient and responsible fundraiser, but if it
shares your information with charities that are neither of these
things you may end up receiving lots of unwelcome donation requests.
Also make sure the charities with which your information is shared
are prevented from re-sharing it without your permission. Finally,
tell the charity to share your information only with nonprofits
that have causes of interest to you so that you will not end up
on the donor lists of organizations you would never consider supporting.
Following a few other basic rules can
help prevent you from receiving a flurry of charity solicitations.
It helps to make a few, larger donations to a smaller number of
charities, rather than making $10 donations to ten or fifteen groups
that might each share your information with several other charities
or fundraisers. Also, do not make a donation to a charity you know
nothing about simply because it happened to solicit you. Instead,
be proactive in your giving by thinking about what causes are important
to you and seeking out efficient charities working within those
causes. When making your charitable donations, communicate that
your gifts are contingent on your information not being shared.
If a charity or its fundraiser refuses to honor your request, direct
your donation elsewhere.