Don’t try to guilt me into giving

I’ve often thought I’d like working for a non-profit organization whose work I could enthusiastically endorse. I’d want to do back-office work, however (e.g. computer systems, writing newsletters, accounting). One job I would never want is fundraising.

I don’t like selling at all. I tried selling Tupperware, but couldn’t bring myself to twist arms to get friends to book parties. When I worked as a bank teller, I got more or less comfortable having to interact with the public all day (it helped that it was a small town and I got to recognize regular customers), but I hated having to do sales pitches (for loans, credit cards, etc.) I am unlikely to ever try to become self-employed, because it would require selling my services to people.

I don’t know if I don’t like selling because I don’t like people trying to sell something to me, but I know I do prefer to be simply given enough information to just make up my own mind. I admit I sometimes take a long time to make it up, but pressuring me to decide just makes me less inclined to do so. And one kind of decision I particularly dislike anyone trying to pressure me into is to donate to charity.

I’m sure it’s in part because I’m a saver, not a spender. I want to hold onto my money, and it’s not easy to just pull some out of my pocket and give it away. I need to be convinced that I’m giving a reasonable amount (considering my budget) to the right organization, and making that decision is something I want to do in private, at my leisure. Try to get me to fork over the money right now – or even a commitment to give it later – and you’ll go on my list of organizations not to donate to.

Years ago I read a book on the psychological tricks companies use to get us to buy their products. Some of those tricks also are used by fundraisers for charity, such as insisting that the decision needs to be made right away, because there is a matching grant that is only available for a limited time. Another is sending you a gift (return address labels are popular) so that you will feel an obligation to give something in return. Knowing these tricks, the author explained, enables you to decide how to use your money based on your own criteria, rather than being manipulated by them.

I long ago stopped giving to charities that contact me by phone. Too many of them contract out the phone solicitation to for-profit businesses who take a sizable chunk of the money given, as administrative costs. And even the rest, I’ve decided, rely too much on emotional manipulation. Those aren’t the kind of organizations I want to support. (For one thing, that means a portion of every dollar I give is going towards calling other people to pressure them into giving.)

In recent years, some organizations have taken to setting up people with buckets to collect from drivers stopped at intersections. Even if they don’t pressure me by approaching me directly, I dislike this way of collecting money. Passersby and other drivers can see if you stick out your hand with something to drop in the bucket or not, making you feel uncomfortable about just driving on by. But I’d rather put up with that discomfort than encourage a fundraising practice that I consider manipulative.

Grocery stores have become another popular place to collect for charity. Sure, it’s only a dollar to get a balloon or a shoe or whatever it is this month, taped to the wall with my name on it to show that I donated. But it’s another situation where I’m being confronted with the request to donate on the spot, with perhaps a line of people behind me waiting to check out (and possibly waiting to see if I will donate or not). There’s no opportunity to find out just how my money will be spent, or how much of it will go to the organizations core purpose as opposed to administrative costs. And it puts grocery clerks in the position of having to keep asking their customers to give. (Hey Paul Wynn – what’s your take on it?)

I’m glad to see that I’m not alone in my aversion to this trend. A column in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal expresses predicts that this may create a backlash as customers get tired of being hit up for donations and choose to shop elsewhere – or simply refuse to give. (I see from the comments that a lot of people do in fact resent it and refuse to donate in that situation.) A recent Marketplace segment on public radio expresses similar concerns.

Several decades ago, United Way was created as a way to streamline giving to numerous local charities. By giving to United Way, often through direct payroll deductions, donors could know they were giving to worthwhile organizations, and those charities had a steady income without having to keep knocking on doors all the time. More recently, it has shifted “from its traditional role as a fundraiser to a new mission focused on identifying and addressing the long-term needs of communities.”

Many people have stopped giving to United Way because of the organizations it does or doesn’t support. Each United Way organization is run locally, so decisions are made by local volunteers and community leaders based on their knowledge of the community. But many communities today are far from homogeneous, and many people will not give to United Way if it supports Planned Parenthood and does not support Boy Scouts. (On the other hand, no doubt many other people would gladly give to United Way for exactly the same reasons.)

Today non-profits have far more options open to them for fundraising endeavors, through the nearly ubiquitous internet. A small organization run on a shoestring can get its message out nearly as well as a big one – so long as it has someone with both web and marketing savvy. When the founder of charity:water spoke at our church a few months ago, I particularly took note of how he brought in people with a background in brand management, design, and communication, to get out the message effectively.

I don’t want the internet to take the place of person-to-person encounters with people in need. And we do need to be careful not to fall for the scams that also exploit the power of online communication. But I would much rather donate ten or twenty dollars to an organization whose website I can visit to learn about what they do and how they manage their money, than to be asked for some change when I’m doing my grocery shopping.

3 Responses to Don’t try to guilt me into giving

  1. Paul Wynn says:

    I’ve heard selling tupperware is very profitable but the backdraw to any self start business is to head towards family and friends first =/. I’ve also heard and researched that Goodwill CEO makes 600k.. hows that right?

    • Pauline says:

      You’re probably referring to the CEO of the Portland Goodwill (that is where you live, I think). It made the national news a few years ago, and he took a cut in pay because of how the matter was putting Goodwill in a bad light. From what I read, his Goodwill was the most successful in the nation, so he was obviously very good at what he did.

      Salaries for nonprofit CEOs vary a lot, largely based on the size of the organization. Nonprofit boards try to pay their executives at least somewhat in line with what for-profits pay, otherwise it would be much harder to find people with high levels of ability and experience willing to work for them. There may be a lot of people willing to work for less, but not a lot of people with the skills to successfully lead a large organization willing to work for so much less than they could elsewhere.

      The chief executive of Boy Scouts – at the national level – makes 1.5 million, according to Charity Navigator. Executives at various councils around the country make more like $200K. Of the charities I am familiar with and have given to, directors of Habitat for Humanity chapters make the least – not a single one I looked at made over $100K.

      I had a friend in Michigan who directed the local chapter, in fact I nearly ended up working for her, until the company that had laid me off hired me back. She spent a lot of her time writing grant applications, but there was never enough money to finish all the houses they had scheduled to work on. Would a larger salary for her position have attracted someone with a flair for fundraising who could have brought in more money to expand the work? I have no idea.

  2. cindyinsd says:

    Hi, Pauline

    I so agree with you. I don’t mind the Salvation Army bucket outside the stores, but I never say yes to the offer to paint my name on a balloon. You’ve probably already found this site, but Charity Navigator has rated many, many charities out there in every category. I always go there before I decide whom to give my money. Oh yeah, and I ask God–sometimes He has some ideas, too. 😉

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