Category Archives: charity

dealing with donating to charity and the ensuing stack of solicitations

A recent post on my favorite consumer-watchdog website The Consumerist captures some of the frustration that Ryan and I and our friends have all experienced when donating to charitable causes: the dreaded stack of mail that almost inevitably shows up from the organizations that we donate to or, even worse, OTHER organizations which have flagged your address as the address of SOMEONE WHO DONATES TO CHARITY AND WHO MUST WANT TO DONATE TO ALL CHARITIES.  This is annoying for a number of really obvious reasons: first, for the environmentally-conscious consumer, it creates waste that you now have to deal with (hopefully by recycling the solicitation materials).  Nobody likes junk mail.  Second, your donations (along with many other peoples’ donations) have likely paid for these solicitations.  When we select a cause to support monetarily, most of us don’t love knowing that part of our donation goes to overhead costs like mass mailings; it feels icky, even if it is effective.  (I’m not having a lot of luck right now finding sources on how effective this practice is at generating more donations, but I’ll keep looking and update when I find something).  Third, and this is just a wild guess, but I tend to assume that in general, people hate being asked to part with their hard-earned money, especially when they’ve likely already donated to a cause.  It’s tacky.  It’s like accepting a gift from a friend, and then telling some other people that your friend is a totally-awesome gift-giver, so then those people go around asking your friend for some gifts.  Right?

The worst offense here is, I think, the fact that some of these mass solicitation mailings look very…expensive.  Our friend Tim has complained about those gorgeous full-color LARGE maps that Médecins Sans Frontières sends out to previous donors, and Ryan and I agree that it’s tacky that they send these out.  We’ve gotten several of those, along with other additional mail from other organizations, printed on fancy paper and cardstock with color photos and celebrity endorsements and pleas for assistance to insert random organization/cause here.  What’s so awful about this is the prospect that these practices would steer someone away from philanthropy—for example, we’re making it a point to no longer donate to Médecins Sans Frontières, even though I love their mission.  Look, I’m not knocking transparency.  Lord knows, transparency in charitable organizations is REALLY IMPORTANT.  But none of these mailings so far have been geared toward shedding light on the organizations’ practices and progress—they have almost all been solicitations for more donations.

So what do we do about this?  The obvious answer is to refuse to donate to organizations which sell your name and address and spend significant amounts of money on fancy mailings, but this is easier said than done.  We often don’t know which organizations are the offenders until we donate; then we’re stuck going through the hassle of removing our names from mailing lists (which, let’s face it, it sometimes ineffective).  The website CharityNavigator (which I don’t really like as much as GiveWell) lists some tips for stopping solicitations by mail, all of which seem to be generally good pieces of advice, though donating anonymously might turn off some of the donors who want to reap the tax benefits of donating.  The one piece of advice that they offer and which I’ve also seen elsewhere is to refrain from spreading around your charity dollars too much and stop giving small amounts of money to many charities; they note that “Small donations, such as $25, barely cover the costs the charity incurred in soliciting the gift. To recoup those costs, many charities will simply sell the donor’s name to another charity doing similar work.”  Sound advice, but problematic if you care about a number of causes and have limited funds to donate.  Obviously we need higher levels of transparency and more accountability involved in the non-profit world (just as we need more of both of those things in the for-profit world as well).  I don’t have any viable solutions at this point (this was more of an expressing-frustration post) but I’ll keep thinking about this and we’ll definitely come back to this topic later.  Send us any thoughts you have or any experiences you have with particularly bad offenders of this (or alternatively, any great organizations who don’t solicit! I know Ryan hasn’t gotten any mail from the Against Malaria Foundation).

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Here are the photos, which I’m including because they’re awesome.  Again, I cannot recommend the Against Malaria Foundation highly enough.

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why the amf is so awesome

I was a little bemused when I discovered earlier this year that no longer recommended Village Reach, instead encouraging readers to donate to the Against Malaria Foundation.  I decided to trust GiveWell (their calculations do seem rigorous) and go with AMF.  It turns out they run a pretty awesome organization; they update you an inoffensive number of times (maybe 1-2 emails every few months, and they have NEVER mailed me).  The best part about those updates is that they give you photos of where the malaria nets you helped fund were distributed.  Their interface is extremely user-friendly and provides thorough information:

kids against malaria

One of the things I like about donating to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) is that they show you every donation that has been submitted, and allow you to post a personalized message to others.  (My optional message, incidentally, is always, “If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine,” because I am committed to destroying any potential political career by aligning myself with noted communists.)

Anyway, I liked this message in particular:

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donation #2

With Paneragate in my rearview mirror, my early paycheck (thanks to the holiday) has offered me a way to soothe my woozy ego: charitable donation.  I split up my 2% over two bill cycles a month, and during the latter half I get to spend more on charity, thereby amplifying the self esteem boost.  I went, again, with the Against Malaria Foundation:

Huzzah!  Check them out.

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week one recap

We made it through the first week of the year, and so far I think the challenge is going pretty well.  I want to thank all of our friends for the tons of support, love, and advice they’ve given us already: we’re getting great food ideas and advice on products to check out, volunteer resources, and really positive feedback in general from most of the people we’ve talked to about the project.  Thanks also for checking out the blog; we remain excited about our adventure and we look forward to continuing our documentation here.  We’re keeping a list of topics we plan on covering in the future.  Full steam ahead!

Today I submitted my first volunteer application, to 4-H.  I hope to hear something back soon; I’ve decided to hold off on the Douglas County AIDS Project for now, at least until I get in contact with 4-H and figure out what sort of time commitment I’m looking at initially.  If I can get in with 4-H and I find myself with extra time and energy, I’ll expand my volunteering commitment.  Ryan already posted about our first recycling drop-off with our new IKEA recycling bags; I’ve got a post in the works about the challenges of recycling in Lawrence.  Tonight Ryan had his first class for UMKC this semester, and for dinner we had Palak Paneer (of the Trader Joe’s boxed variety—it’s pretty tasty, for boxed Indian food) with basmati rice and naan.  We’ve been eating pretty well and the hunger I thought I was experiencing last week seems to have abated.  I’m not really missing meat at all, which is kind of surprising.  I guess I figured that by now I’d at least crave something I couldn’t have.  I went to brunch at IHOP with some of my girlfriends on Sunday and had a brief moment of panic when almost everyone else at the table ordered bacon with their meals, but when the plates arrived I didn’t even flinch (I love bacon, for the record).  I know it’s a small victory, but it’s nice to know I can go out with friends and not be intimidated or weak if/when someone at the table orders meat.

I haven’t yet figured out what charitable organizations I plan on supporting this year.  Ryan donates monthly like a bill; I will make my donations in several chunks (either twice a year or four times, depending largely on how I decide to spend my charity budget) because it works better for me and my overall budget to do it that way.  I’m thinking of supporting one local organization and one international organization, but first I need to figure out how much money I’m going to make this year (my salary fluctuates if I decide to teach extra sections, which I am doing this spring, and I’m not sure yet how much the extra section will pay).  Locally I’m a fan of Harvesters.  Internationally, I like Médecins Sans Frontières.  I’m torn between supporting one organization or several.  I need to do some thinking and research before I decide, though, so I’ll say more about my decisions as I make them.

That’s all I’ve got for the first week recap.  Let the challenge continue!

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So, obstacle one: the charity to which I have been donating for over a year, Village Reach, has now been graded slightly differently by It still is a “standout organization” and was top-rated for “2009, 2010, and much of 2011,” but now GiveWell says that Village Reach “does not have short-term funding needs.”

What does this mean?  Apparently, GiveWell’s support of Village Reach has led to over 2 million dollars in donations, and thus GiveWell now believes it doesn’t need cash at present.  Instead, GiveWell recommends two other organizations (without going into it right now, GiveWell recommends precious few organizations at all): the Against Malaria Foundation and the Schistosomiasis Control Initiative.

This, to me, brings up lots of issues, but here’s the one that I’m facing at present: I’ve developed an attachment to Village Reach.  I feel some sort of connection to their project beyond just dollars and cents.  Giving to another organization seems somehow unfulfilling; I want my money doing what I thought it was doing already, supporting healthcare infrastructure in rural Africa.  Now I have to choose a new charity?  On day one?  Damn it.

Anyway, I still like


Hello.  We are Ashley and Ryan, and we are embarking on an experiment in living for 2012 that we’re calling “A Year of Living Ethically.”  We’ll write about our adventures and challenges in ethical living here.  Our next post will involve a detailed plan/outline of our project, which will begin officially on January 1, 2012.