Drowning In Good Intentions

I am drowning in good intentions, and it is quite the bittersweet experience.

It all began on the first day of December 2016 with an idea spurred by an event that took place almost a month earlier—that most hateful of days: Election Day. Now faced with an ugly political landscape guaranteed to harm the disadvantaged, exploit the vulnerable, and bully the voiceless, I decided to publicly assist charitable organizations that empower those groups. I called it “$25 for 25.”

Every day of the first twenty-five days of Christmas, I donated $25 to a different charity that touched on a variety of issues, including social, environmental, and rights advocacy, religious relations, and aid relief. I then took a screenshot of the donation receipt and posted it—along with a link to the organization’s donation website—on Twitter. I don’t have many followers, but I hoped my posts might inspire some of them to click on one of the links and donate whatever amount they could afford, or perhaps retweet the link to give the charity group even more exposure. Every little bit of funding or word-of-mouth advertisement helps. I truly believe that. Now comes the part where I am drowning, and the only way to stay afloat is to be a total ass.

While I was hitting that DONATE button again and again and again, I didn’t stop to think about the fact that non-profit organizations tend to rely on recurring contributions and mailing lists. When you donate online via their donation pages, most require you to provide them with your name and mailing address. No big deal, right?  Well, no . . . and yes.

It’s not a big deal because in general, it’s rather benign information to provide. They aren’t opening credit cards in my name with that information or visiting my home and stealing my Who Hash and Roast Beast in the middle of the night. Indeed, a more practical concern is the security of my credit card information, which is a potential issue for any online transaction these days. Thus far—Equifax hacks aside—I seem to be fine on that front.

On the other hand, it has become a bit of an ordeal because each of those twenty-five organizations is now sending solicitations via snail mail with varying frequency. Some have sent only a handful of additional donation requests (less than one per month) while others have sent me close to two or three per month. On a side note, most were also sending email solicitations, but those are easy to opt out of with the required Unsubscribe button.

In addition to solicitations from most of the original twenty-five groups, I am now also receiving requests from related organizations that were not on my “$25 for 25” list. In total, I’ve now received solicitations for more than 42 different charities, including the original set. It’s all becoming a bit like a closet full of wire coat hangers—the pile is growing exponentially, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to untangle myself from this mess.

Now let me stop here and stress something important: on the whole, these organizations are wonderful and worthy. They do great work in communities across the globe. They work hard for the contributions they receive, and I appreciate that. This is their business model, and it’s a valid one to rely on, i.e., if someone donates once, they are likely to donate again with a bit of encouragement and communication. Consistent contributors and sustaining members are their bread-and-butter, so I do not begrudge them their marketing plans. This avalanche of charity solicitations that I’ve found myself buried under is not their fault. Well, at least not in a malevolent way. How were these great organizations to know I contributed to twenty-four other groups last December? Who among them could guess they weren’t the only non-profit I was making googly eyes at?

So I take the blame on this. I accept responsibility for the undue burden I’ve put on our postal carrier with the extra weight of envelopes stuffed full of stationary, mailing labels, note pads, pens, posters and calendars. I acknowledge that I should have been a bit smarter about this. And now, I’m paying the price for my short-sightedness by feeling like a grade-A jerk.

You see, the only way (in theory) to stop the deluge of donation requests is to write “remove my name and address from your list”—or something to that effect—on the solicitation card and send it back in the enclosed envelope. Each time I write that across their plea for assistance, across the picture of that poor blue warbler whose habitat is threatened without my help, I feel awful.

I imagine the unpaid intern/volunteer opening the envelope, joy warming their heart over the sheer beauty of human generosity. The entire office stands around that kid’s cubicle, waiting with baited breath to see the impressive amount this wonderful, loving person contributed. They’ve brought to the unpaid intern/volunteer’s desk the Gong of Generosity, only struck by those who’ve opened an envelope containing a truly worthy donation. It’s the figurative golden ticket in the chocolate bar.

And then . . . they see my note. No money. No credit card information. No “I can commit to this amount!” box checked. Just my cold, unfeeling, hastily scrawled note demanding they remove me from their lifeline. So you get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir! (Yes, still with the Wonka references.) What. A. Bitch. I even had the nerve to use one of their lovingly-personalized address labels to send it back to them. That’s just salt to the wound. Lemon juice in the paper cut, of which I figure I deserve every single one I’ve gotten on my tongue from licking closed those envelopes of scorn.

Of course, that’s a dramatization. I don’t expect it’s actually like that at non-profit collection centers (or, if it is, please don’t tell me!) But all drollness aside, I honestly do feel like a first-class heel each time I send back the donation request card with my own request to be removed from their lists. And that’s because—as I said earlier—each one of the charities I’ve donated to, and even those to whom I did not, support crucial causes. Important, worthy causes. I want to support every single one of them. I want to send back a positive reply each time I get another request in the mail. But the simple truth is that I can’t. I was lucky enough last December that my circumstances allowed me to be able to extend past my normal holiday donation amount and spread it out among the 25 charities. I don’t regret having done it.

This year, things are a bit different. Charitable giving, especially during the holiday season, remains a priority in my family. I’ll do what I can, but I can’t do much. Even so, there are other ways to assist charities with their missions besides monetary donations. Volunteer time. Volunteer skills. Vote for candidates who support their causes. Spread the word. Shine a light on these organizations to your friends, families, and social media followers. After all, good work and good intentions don’t always have to come with a price.

Update:  I drafted this post offline back in December 2017, and then promptly got distracted with the usual winter holiday festivities before I was able to post it.  Since writing it, I’ve noticed a significant decrease in the number of charitable mailings.  From time-to-time, I still receive the occasional one-off from a charity I’d never heard of but one associated to a cause I’d donated to.  I wanted to mention it, because it appears that asking to be removed from mailing lists actually does work, which I truly appreciate.

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