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Too many requests for money can lead to donor fatigue

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Patsy Pridgen

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By Patsy Pridgen
Telegram Columnist

Sunday, November 12, 2017

When Walt Whitman wrote, “Give alms to everyone that asks,” he didn’t anticipate the well-oiled, multi-staffed fundraising departments of today’s charities. I’m betting he didn’t open his mailbox to daily requests for donations from a myriad of organizations.

I don’t mean to sound like a charity Scrooge, but my generosity is being buried under an avalanche of solicitations. I don’t know how I’ve managed to get on so many mailing lists. It may be that no good deed goes unpunished. I’ve donated $10 here, $25 there, and I guess once a person comes up with cash, that donor goes in a database and is forever a candidate for future fundraising.

It’s not just the number of causes asking for money: it’s also the frequency of their requests. I don’t mind giving annually to several worthy organizations: the American Red Cross, the March of Dimes, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Doctors Without Borders, the American Heart Association, and UNC Public Television, for example.

But what has apparently happened is that many of these organizations keep returning to the small donor well. I have begun getting monthly, sometimes weekly, requests for donations from the same groups. It’s like having a teenager constantly asking for pocket money. No matter how much is given, more is always wanted.

These requests are not simple letters either. Many are packages containing calendars, address labels, greeting cards, and/or personalized note pads. Attention to all charities on whose list I appear: I’m well stocked. How many hundreds of address labels does a person need? I can’t use more than one 2018 small desk calendar.

Of course I have to open a letter showcasing a nickel or dime in a cellophane window on the front of the envelope. Unlike all those address labels, I don’t throw away money. Keeping coins without filling out the attached form and writing a check to a charity used to feel dishonest, but I’ve become callous. If I check past bank statements, I usually find I’ve already made a recent donation.

Don’t get me wrong: I feel good about the charities I contribute to. These are not scams but reputable, widely known organizations that do a lot of good and for the most part don’t spend an unreasonable amount of money on fundraising.

But in my case, they could spend less and maybe get more. If I could be sure the solicitation I am receiving is an annual one – meaning I would not be asked again and again throughout the year for money from the same organization – then I would write a larger check for that one time. As it is, I write little checks, never quite sure if I’ve already contributed within the last 12 months.

I know times are hard for many charities. I realize the need is great, and the cause is good. But I can’t help being annoyed by the constant barrage of solicitations from the same organizations that I’ve usually already contributed to. Bah, humbug. It’s enough to cause donor burnout.

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