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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Helping without giving

Fruitless fundraising appeals don’t have to go in the wastebasket

Helping without giving

(Krieg Barrie)

Ready to trade in one bothersome blizzard for another? Goodbye to the avalanche of political commercials you’ve endured for the last six months from your TV, your mailbox, your computer, and your phone. Thankfully, the politicians’ pitches are over—unless you happen to live in Louisiana, where a runoff in the race for the U.S. Senate is set for early December.

But hello to a new wave of interruptions as the end-of-the-year fundraising season goes into high gear. Every school, missionary, relief organization, crisis pregnancy center, wildlife preserve, legal defense group, and youth camp has your name and address in its computer file—and every one of them will make its pitch between now and Dec. 31. A few of them come enhanced with word of potential matching gifts, reminding you that if you don’t help double their year-end income you’re going to feel doubly guilty.

How can you know? How can you discern which of the scores of proposals are deserving? And which are less so?

Let me start with the obvious—and in doing so, I’ll confess that I’ve suggested a few of these ideas before in this very space. That’s OK, though, partly because it’s an important issue and partly because it’s not plagiarism when you quote yourself.

The obvious place to start building your defense is to reduce the number of requests you subject yourself to. I suggest that unless you’re a professional philanthropist, you limit your giving to no more than 15 or 20 entities. Get to know them well. When you narrow your focus in such a manner, and increase accordingly the amount of each gift to those who remain on your list, you’ll be surprised how much of your money will be redirected to actual ministry and away from receipting, bookkeeping, processing, and overhead. 

So start compiling a master list of all the appeals you get between now and early January—by direct mail, by email, by phone. Next to the name of each organization, put a (1) beside all those you know you really believe in and are committed to. Put a (2) next to those you’re generally familiar with, but honestly don’t know that much about. And put a (3) next to those that just keep cluttering your incoming mailbox even though you’ve never really checked them out.

At this point, you might think that your wastebasket is your simplest, your best, and your cheapest ally. But I want to propose that there’s a better way.

By specifically reducing their costs, you’re actually making a modest gift to that organization or cause!

Here comes the part that, while it makes some people feel guilty, should instead make them feel virtuous! I suggest that you clip the actual mailing labels from all the requests that you’ve put in category 3, tape each label right in the middle of a blank 8½ x 11 sheet of paper, write “PLEASE REMOVE MY NAME FROM ALL MAILING LISTS” across the top of the page, and mail it (with your own first-class stamp) to the organization. I’ve learned from experience that many list managers simply won’t take seriously anything less clear than that. 

And why is it virtuous? Because leaving your name on such a list, when you’ve already concluded that there’s little prospect you’ll ever be an active donor, means you’re costing that organization anywhere from $3 to over $20 a year—depending on how often they plan to send you similar requests in the future, and how lavish each of those requests might be. By specifically reducing their costs, you’re actually making a modest gift to that organization or cause!

What’s next? Well, proceed carefully. I heard from one WORLD member who was so elated after doing this a couple of years ago that he went ahead and did the same thing with his category 2 organizations—getting himself down to a core of just 13 category 1 causes. He was excited at the prospect of checking those 13 groups out in more detail, learning more about how they operated and used the gifts of God’s people—and then increasing his level of regular giving to most of them. In the process, he had trimmed the mailing and fundraising costs of approximately 30 other groups. And he had reduced his own annoyance over a cluttered mailbox.

That, I think, is wise stewardship.



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  • liannf
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:32 pm

    I, too, have tried to get off of lists.  The frustration of having tried multiple times leads me to believe that it is pointless and a waste of time.  I also can tell that once a donation is sent to one organization, you are more likely to get your name on other organization's lists.  The cycle continues.  I think the problem is that it costs more money to attempt to be removed than to simply throw the whole envelop away, unopened.  The most trouble I have had is when I send a donation by request in honor of someone with the comment of this being a one- time gift and find that the organization seems to put me down as donor for life.

  •  CherylQuilts's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:32 pm

    Great idea!  We've been focusing over the years and will definitely take the step of sending letters to #3 charities!  Thank you!  BTW, World is #1 for us!

  • MTJanet
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:32 pm

     I have done this too.  One group did not get it, but the others quickly conceded, and I do feel like it is a donation of sorts.  

  • GinaInOregon's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:32 pm

    great idea!

  • Rich277
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:32 pm

    Beware...there's a good chance this might not work.  I once gave a small gift to a ministry with a note that said this was a onetime gift--they should not put me on their mailing list because it would only use up the small gift I had entrusted to them to use wisely.  A month later, I got a mailing from them and I sent it back with the same warning.  I't been 25 years and I'm still getting mailings.  The gift I had given has long since been used up and they are well into negative territory.  It was a good lesson for a young Christian to give only to those organizations I intended to support for a long time.

  • Debra
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 01:32 pm

    I am going to do this, thanks for the tip and the benevolent perspective on saying 'no', it is good to realize limits and be spending wise even for good things! Hope your Thanksgiving is filled with gratefulness to our Lord and Savior!!!