Charity begins where?

Jan 07, 2024
Source: Getty Images.

You’d think I would be thrilled if I won the Lotto (which I haven’t), but unlike a lot of people, I feel it would cause me too much stress. Not because I’d be over-run by long- forgotten relatives and friends begging for a handout, but because I’m a sucker for a sob story. Let me explain.

Several years ago, some bright advertising guru came up with the idea that if charities sent out letters to strangers whose names and addresses they’d either snaffled from the electoral rolls or paid phone companies to hand over, then those strangers would be so moved by the stories in those letters that donations would come flooding in.

Well, it worked. Especially the letters that came with gifts like birthday or Christmas cards, wrapping paper, plastic carry bags, key-rings, etc. Apart from people who think that it’s polite to give something in return for even an unsolicited gift, a lot of generosity bones are tickled by the stories in those letters. What landed in my letterbox was a trickle at first – just the odd letter and gift maybe once a fortnight. The stories were heart-rending, the monetary request small. Touched by them, and grateful for my good fortune in being healthy and not homeless, I donated. But it didn’t take long for the trickle to become a river, and then a flood.

I worked out that those early donations I made must have registered on some database that assumed I was extremely generous, easily appealed to, or maybe just plain gullible, because the Australian charity letters were soon joined by ones from organisations I never knew existed. Every medical organisation soon had my name and contact details and I was learning about diseases that made me reassess my food choices and wonder why I never learned Latin at school. It wasn’t long before I was checking every pain, cough, redness (was that a rash?), lump or spot, and wondering if it needed further investigation.

Then came the animal-focussed letters that had me shuddering with revulsion at what “human” beings inflict on helpless creatures. Next, requests poured into my letterbox for support for working animals such as donkeys, camels, horses, water buffaloes, and all the other quadrupeds that could carry a person or a load on their worn-out backs. One charity even wanted money to enable kennels to be built for sled dogs in Alaska.

Feeling rather overwhelmed I requested my name to be taken off these charities’ databases, but it was futile. Writing “Return to Sender” on the unopened envelope and posting it back also led to no decrease in the volume arriving. I was tempted to add “This person is dead” but thought I’d probably be inundated by funeral homes hoping for business or lawyers seeing an estate to be divided up.

All frivolity aside, it worries me that these charities are wasting paper and postage and gifts trying to lure in new financial supporters and using money that could otherwise be spent on research and patient or animal care. I wonder if they ever conduct a survey to see if their outlay results in increased donations, and if no one has donated after two requests, then their name should automatically be deleted from the database. The ones making the most money out of this marketing ploy must surely be the advertising companies being paid by the charities.

I understand and am sympathetic to the fact that donations to all charities have fallen, particularly since the pandemic, but I am limited to what I am able to donate and sometimes feel pressured by the avalanche filling my letterbox. Occasionally a letter is addressed to my husband, and as he died three years ago, I can only wonder how they got his name and contact details. Some friends have told me how painful it is when they receive these types of letters sent to a deceased loved one, and how sad it is to have to keep asking for their name to be taken off the charity’s mailing list.

I don’t have an answer to how charities can increase donations, but constant bombardment of begging letters only creates resentment in the recipients. Surely there must be a better way to make their needs known.

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