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Frequent requests seem less than charitable

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The other day there were two items in my daily mail. One was a receipt from a charity; the other was a request for money...from the same charity. That did it!

I receive quite a bit of mail from charities. My practice for the past few years has been to throw them all in a box and go through them once a month or so. I pick out a couple and send them a small donation — usually $25. Some I give to twice. In this way, I spread my giving out over the year instead of piling it all up in December.

I am a member of some charities and I donate bigger amounts to these organizations, and generally they don’t bother me too often. By the end of the year I will have donated $700 to $800. I am on a fixed income so my conscience is clear about writing on this subject.

So I got out the box and started analyzing the pile — a very worthwhile exercise because I discovered a bill that I hadn’t paid!

As of the end of November, I had received 91 requests, from 25 different agencies. There have been others that I’m never going to contribute to which I just throw out, and therefore aren’t included. I also get two or three phone calls a day from anonymous numbers, any of which could be charities. I’ve never bothered with them if they don’t leave a message.

Obviously, many of the agencies have sent me multiple requests. I was at first surprised to find that it’s mostly the ones I’ve donated to that have done this. But I realized that their point of view must be that it’s no use to solicit non-givers repeatedly; and perhaps they are depending upon poor memory or poor record-keeping on the part of the donors, or perhaps it’s just a matter of wearing them down. In any event, it must work or else they wouldn’t do it.

But there must come a point when it’s self-defeating. The worst offender (the one that has sent 13 requests so far) sends eight by 11-inch stiff plastic envelopes which must cost $1.50 each for postage. If I’m right, then the solicitations have cost them more than I have donated.

The amount of swag enclosed with these requests makes me wonder. Calendars, Christmas cards, return-address stickers, notepads, pens, actual money in the form of nickels and dimes, little shopping bags.

I’d guess that all charities these days are computerized so my comments apply to them all. They must retain the date of one’s donations to make sure that the receipts get sent out for the correct tax year. That being the case, they can easily determine how often a person donates in a given year. From that they can work out any patterns: if a donation comes in once, twice, three times a year. Using this, they can send out exactly enough requests per year to match the donor’s pattern — with one more, perhaps, if the pattern isn’t kept up. This is very simple programming! It ought to be obvious to the agencies, too. That would save their resources and would reduce the amount of irritation among their donors: I would think so, anyway. At the very least they could prevent sending out further requests until the receipt has gone. (My career has been in information technology, so I know what I’m talking about here).

Work with me here, charities! I appreciate and support the work you do. Some of you may conceivably help me out at some future date. But, please, use your records scientifically to focus your requests, saving you resources and me annoyance. It’s worth it.

Peter Lacey is a St. Vital-based writer. Neighbourhood Forum is a readers’ column. If you live in The Lance area and would like to contribute to this column, contact

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