Hey, Charities: Direct Mail Stinks

Listen up, non-profit organizations, I'll lay it out for you. Sending me address labels in the mail is a one-way ticket off my Christmas card list. They're not recyclable and I don't like putting them in the trash.* Your direct mail is a direct cause of my decision not to give you any more money. I've already written to the Direct Marketing Association and told them to opt me out of mailings from non- and for-profit companies alike. (And, hey, charities, thanks for renting my address and many others to the DMA when I specifically asked you not to. Did they send you thirty pieces of silver?)

A 2004 article in the New York Times notes the declining response charities are getting from direct mail, especially mail containing address labels:

Five to seven years ago, the [Paralyzed Veterans of America] group received donations from 15 to 20 percent of people who got its mailings for the first time. "Those numbers are now probably 50 percent of that," Mr. Dowis said. Older donors respond strongly to label mailings, he said, while younger people — whom charities want for future growth — "tend to be very cynical, and we tend to be much more discerning."

Check the date again: this quote is three and a half years old. So address labels in direct mail are probably even less effective in soliciting donations now, yet they keep on a-comin'. Every week. I'll say it again: the more mail I get, the less likely I am to give back. And I'm not alone:

"We're hearing that more and more," said Sandra Miniutti, a spokeswoman for Charity Navigator, an organization that monitors nonprofit groups. "It's a commonly held belief that the more times you ask, the more times you'll get, but people are withdrawing their support."

It's safe to say that I'm a member of that more-cynical younger demographic with whom charities hope to foster long-term giving. Here's a tip for the orgs: People my age also tend to pay bills online. We have even less need for envelopes, stamps, and, you guessed it -- return address labels.

Here are some things you can do to cut down on the amount of material that arrives in your mailbox:

1. Write to the Direct Marketing Association to opt-out of all unsolicited offers.

2. If you like a charity but don't need all that mail, contact the organization and tell them that. Many charities offer you the option of receiving information just a few times a year, or by email only.

3. Charities target first-time givers, because those are the people most likely to give again. If you are considering donating for the first time, try doing it over the phone with a credit card. That way you can connect with a human on the other end and make sure they know you want to opt out of mailings.

4. Focus your giving on organizations that are visible in your community: local food banks, animal shelters, your church, Boys and Girls clubs, the YMCA, Habitat for Humanity, and so on.

5. Check up on your chosen charitable recipients at Charity Navigator. They have nifty stats like how much money an organization raises versus what they spend, how they spend it, and how much their CEO makes. Cool.

6. Speak up. I've contacted the charities I gave to last year, and told them that the mailings affected my decision not to give to them again. I may be just one of many, but I have a voice, and if I don't use it, I guarantee they won't hear me.

Speaking of money, I've really been enjoying Trent Hamm's blog The Simple Dollar. (He updates every day! Wow!) The Starving Artist cliche may be a myth, but that doesn't mean I can't learn to be smart with my money.

*Nature Conservancy, I'm looking at you.