The Do-Gooder’s Dilemma

March 16, 2012

giving back when youre broke

Whenever possible, I try not to be a jaded American who consumes but never gives back.  One of my deepest values is to give back, to donate my time and money when I have it to causes I care about.  Even when I’ve been busy and broke, I’ve made it a point to give a little something, but have been terribly frustrated with the state of charity.

There causes that are close to my heart-  supporting children who have survived abuse and neglect,  giving everyone access to food, shelter, education and healthcare and of course, rescuing pugs.

Well, I wanted to donate to a healthcare organization that helps impoverished women until I found out that like most organizations- they could not ensure that my information would not be shared with other organizations.  I decided immediately not to donate and closed the donation window on my browser, totally frustrated.

See, I already had more keychains, return address labels & window clings that I would ever ask for.  I was sick of it.

I hate to ever say I made the “mistake” of donating to a friend’s team for a Leukemia walk a few months ago, but previously I was relatively “charity junk mail” free since relocating to Chicago.  A few months after my small donation to her Leukemia walk, I began receiving donation letters to charities I had never heard of.

My measly $10 donation to my friend’s charitable walk got me on lists upon lists of non-profits who began sending me way too much junk mail.  Keychains, stickers, bookmarks…all that cost money- namely donation money.

What are these charities trying to accomplish?  Not only am I annoyed that I my information has been sold to charities I don’t have any interest in donating to (Hey, I’m all for saving the wolves, but I’m more about saving children), but I’m disenfranchised that my donation money would be used to send out additional keychains and stationary to other unsuspecting good samaritans who are getting dragged into their net since they supported something else.

I don’t want my donation money to be used to send keychains and other crap.  I don’t want my information to be shared with other organizations if I donate to one.  I just want to know that I can do good without feeling bad about it and contributing to frustrated patrons and fuller landfills.


I know companies like TOMS get a lot of guff since they’re a for-profit company, but they seem to be succeeding where other organizations are failing.  Where all of these worthy-causes are alienating people like me, at least TOMS gives people who care the respect to not hassle them after they donate or throw our information to the wind.  You buy your shoes or sunglasses and you’re done, no surprises from 5 other shoe companies sending you catalogs 4 months later.

So what are we to do if charities don’t even have the option of opting out?  In emailing several charities I wanted to donate to, none could promise or provide an opt-out option for those of us who don’t our information to be shared.

Additionally, I really want to send the message to non-profits that sending me junk is the absolute worst  way to get me to donate.


Am I the only one who is totally fed up?  I know there must be some way to do-good without feeling like you’re being scammed or harassed, could you help a sister out?  What are your favorite organizations and how do you control your privacy?  

18 comments so far.

18 responses to “The Do-Gooder’s Dilemma”

  1. Andrea says:

    Fundraising is a big part of my job responsibilities at the nonprofit I work for, but I feel the same way about getting a bunch of unsolicited requests. A lot of that unsolicited mail can be avoided by donating to organizations that have a clear donor privacy policy on their website. Charity Navigator also includes donor privacy as part of their reports and lets you know which charities give a clear opt out option.

    Most of the nonprofits out there are doing great work and really value the privacy of their donors. It stinks that there are a few that make a habit of selling donor info, but I hope you'll continue to give the the organizations that are close to your heart and also value your privacy.

    • Shannyn@FruBeautiful says:

      Andrea, thank you for the incredibly informative and thoughtful response, that is totally helpful.

      I will have to check out Charity Navigator but still am a smidge peeved that that even has to be necessary…since one of the organizations I wanted to donate to, Planned Parenthood really does a lot of good for women's health for low income women and students (providing cancer screenings and pap smears are so essential but usually unattainable for low income women esp. with kids) and I was so irritated to see that they could promise my privacy. I don't understand that at all.. you can't even opt out? Seriously! ugh!

      Thanks again, and yes- I still love donating and helping non-profits and there are many that don't sell your info or share it, but I wish it was the policy across the board and feel it should be adopted for all the non-profits that want donation, it seems like just a good industry standard to have.

      Thanks again Andrea and keep up your good work! 🙂

      • nancy says:

        Planned Parenthood gets SO many federal dollars. Many of our local women's shelters are in dire need. Most counties have the 211 list that will make you aware of these.

  2. @applecsmith says:

    I totally agree with you Shannyn. Since I'm a huge believer in electronic transactions and statements, the only mail I seem to get now is charity junk mail. It's crazy. I wish they would put all the money towards helping people, instead of sending me massive amounts of address labels, calendars and bookmarks…

  3. JessGreenSD says:

    I have to say I was totally surprised while reading this. I've worked in nonprofit (in marketing and development) for the past 6 years and I have never heard of an organization selling their donor lists. That's the complete opposite of what the organizations I work with do, donors are much harder to come by these days so the LAST thing I'd want to do is give my donors info to someone else! Plus, I completely agree that no one wants to get a bunch of junk from nonprofits, especially if the junk (keychains, etc.) probably cost more to buy and mail than your donation amount. I do see that from many larger, national nonprofits but I highly doubt the smaller local nonprofits are doing the same thing, so my suggestion would be to stick to smaller local nonprofits.

    I also agree with Andrea, Charity Navigator and Guidestar are great places to vet nonprofits. Also, your local community foundation probably has a giving website with profiles of nonprofits in your area that are very helpful in finding an organization to support that you can feel good about, and confident that they won't distribute your info.

    • Shannyn@FruBeautiful says:

      Hey Jess, thanks for the comment! Ya, most of the organizations sending out the "stuff" are big nationwide organizations. The people I get the "stuff" with most- either keychains, return address labels and window clings or offer to trade donations for "stuff" like umbrellas, shopping bags and shirts are huge orgs like WWF, Planned Parenthood, Amnesty International, The Humane Society- big names in the non-profit world.

      I do also donate to smaller organizations that I know don't share my information. I've donated to and participated in fundraisers for foster care support organizations, women's shelter's and local animal rescue- I think that will be how I proceed from this point forward.

      As one who works in marketing, I know how important it is to encourage donations and continue to find new supporters, but an organization that can afford to send out keychains to unsuspecting people that have never previously donated? Well perhaps they can afford to function without me!

      Again, thank you so much- I think I'm going to look for a local org to donate my time to as well as my money instead of just mailing a check off to a big nationwide organization. Thanks again!

  4. lala says:

    $10.00 aint doing good. How can anyone feel good about ten bucks.

    • Shannyn@FruBeautiful says:

      This comment just cracked me up! Thanks for giving me some humor this morning whoever you are.

    • Daniel Boone says:

      I would imagine that it's made all the easier to feel good about it when you consider that some folks don't have even that. Also, any donation is a good donation. The act itself is the key, the amount is only of concern to folks who do it for selfish reasons.

  5. John Smith says:

    I made the mistake of giving a donation to a political campaign back in 2008. Since then, I have had a barrage of mail, email and phone calls from organizations looking for my support.

    I will never give anything to any organization of any kind again. Instead, I give locally in my community (e.g. food bank, through my Church for the needy, etc.).

  6. Brittany says:

    I've given to a few charities and have been lucky enough not to have my information given to anyone else! I work for the Foundation and Donor Relations department for my university, and we give out bookmarks and "swag" to our first time donors only, just as a small initial thank you for thinking of us. These bookmarks and bumper stickers are very cheap to make, plus each one of our thank you cards that come with it are hand signed by student workers like me. 🙂 I think there needs to be a balance. Incentives and thank you gifts need to be cheap, yet still get the message across that we appreciate what you've given. I don't think there's need for keychains and other expensive (production-wise) "swag" unless they have been donated by another organization (which happens too!).

  7. Anon Guy says:

    I remember reading somewhere, perhaps Consumer Reports, about donating to charities and receiving an increase in junk mail. The gist was, that organizations don't really make a lot off of low-dollar donations and, in some cases, lose money on those mailings. Hence, the lucrative business of them selling your name and address to others. Since you donated once, your address is a lot more desirable (and worth more) than a cold list.

    The article did state that donors who gave more would carry more clout when asking to be removed from an organization's mailing list business. That dollar amount, however, would probably start in the three figures.

    But for the $10 donors, perhaps the best way to deal with it (if you can't find the opt out button or box) is to look at the deluge of mailings as a way your charity is making a little more money off your original contribution. Not the best option, but a little sliver of a silver lining.

  8. caroline says:

    After making a few donations, I made it a policy never ever to donate to charities who send me free cards. I have drawers full of free cards. I'm still waiting for them to stop. Surely I must be costing them money by now.

  9. If the non-profits you are getting a ton of mail from are serious about the quality of their list (and most of the big ones are), they are most likely members of the Direct Marketing Association. The DMA offers a great consumer tool called DMA Choice ( that most mailing houses subscribe to and use to suppress the list they using.

    As a guy in working for a non-profit, I would reccomend this as a good tool.

  10. Texas Susan says:

    What also bothers me is when a charity continues to badger you to give more during the year. If I had wanted to give you more, I would’ve the first time I gave! I even told one charity that I wouldn’t continue to give to them if I got any follow-up letters. It actually worked!

  11. sbt122 says:

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  12. sbtest1 says:

    When I first saw this title Frugal BeautifulThe Do-Gooder& on google I just whent and bookmark it. It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  13. P Smith says:

    I stopped donating to ALL charities because of this behaviour. When they call or knock on my door, I tell them flat out why I don’t give anymore. I want to and am willing to give, but I’m not going to put up with my name and address being sold for a penny to a mailing list that I never consented to being on.

    It is NOT up to me or you to “opt out” of spam when permission was never given to begin with.


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