help me make my donation more skim-proof
August 26, 2011 2:08 PM   Subscribe

A canvasser signed our family up to make regular contributions to Planned Parenthood. How can I tell how much of our donation is actually being received by PP?

I've heard claims that canvassing firms take a huge cut out of any donations they collect. I don't want to support a canvassing firm, I want to support PP!

From the documents I've got, I don't see any indication that a canvasser is getting a cut. The receipt mentions only PP, and the credit card charges are under PP's name.

I've thought about just canceling my current donation and replacing it with a donation set up through PP's website, but I was curious about this as well -- does PP get 100% of those donations? Or do revenue-sucking third parties operate donation websites as well? Am I better off just mailing a check?
posted by Sauce Trough to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's hard to tell. If the canvasser is a volunteer, then it might all be going to the charity. If they're not a volunteer, then the sky's the limit what fraction of the donation might be going to fundraising. However, Planned Parenthood is reasonably efficient as these things go, at 16%. Some so-called "charities" spend 50% or more on fundraising, which I would call fraud, but there's no law against it. Even when the check is going directly to the organization, there can be rebates back to the fundraiser.

Also, credit card expenses take a big chunk out of your donation, and it's a pain to track all those monthly donations. If it works with your cash flow and donation "style," make it an annual thing and write a check, to make sure the maximum goes to helping people in need.
posted by wnissen at 2:19 PM on August 26, 2011

If you do go annual, make sure you write down when you made that donation. Our experience is that Planned Parenthood seems to be pretty awful in the sending you copious "Renew now! Your support has expired!" notices after just a few months.

(Long rant about how charitable organizations really need better customer relationship management systems elided 'cause we've already sent all of the ones we care about angry letters, and they seem to have ignored them...)
posted by straw at 2:23 PM on August 26, 2011

i can't find the comment now, but someone who was involved in planned parenthood givings said that it's better to give in smaller amounts more often because planned parenthood can then budget for them. a lump sum once a year is actually less useful to their operating budget.
posted by nadawi at 2:29 PM on August 26, 2011

The canvasser him or herself is not getting a cut, but the company - O'Brien McConnell Pearson - is absolutely getting a cut. (pdf link, see page 8)

Their cut is more than $1.6 million. Your gift may be "going" 100% to Planned Parenthood, but the cost of hiring this agency to run canvassers on streetcorners comes from a different pot of money, which is why they can technically tell you that your gift goes 100% to Planned Parenthood. Sure, it all goes to programs. And money they make from direct mail or other fundraising activities goes towards paying the other bill.

You as the donor aren't any better or worse off just mailing a check, but as a fundraiser myself, I've stopped donating to organizations that use street-team fundraisers because I think that work cheapens the mission of an organization and lowers their credibility. If enough people simply stop giving, that kind of "mugger" fundraising will stop.

When you donate directly to a charity via their website - and donate directly to them, not via Networkforgood or a third-party passthrough - they do receive your whole donation, minus the credit card processing fees, which range around a few cents on the dollar. If you want your gift to be maximally efficient, send in a check.
posted by juniperesque at 2:32 PM on August 26, 2011 [5 favorites]

ah-ha. it was klangklangston.

Just as a note from a former canvasser who shared the office with Planned Parenthood canvassers — Planned Parenthood can do a lot more with donations if they're made monthly rather than yearly. It really helps them plan their programs and budget. So if you're thinking about making a huge one-off donation, think about signing up and making a smaller monthly contribution instead. It's weird to think that more money isn't necessarily more effective, but it's true.
posted by nadawi at 2:36 PM on August 26, 2011

and a couple comments later is his fuller explanation.
posted by nadawi at 2:37 PM on August 26, 2011

i can't find the comment now, but someone who was involved in planned parenthood givings said that it's better to give in smaller amounts more often because planned parenthood can then budget for them. a lump sum once a year is actually less useful to their operating budget.

I would be careful applying this as a general rule for charitable giving because I know it's not true for all charities. I have noticed that public radio is moving toward this model - the monthly bank debit - which is indeed pretty reliable and I can see the appeal for something like PP. But other places may really prefer the annual fund model.
posted by Miko at 4:06 PM on August 26, 2011

agreed miko, i was just speaking specifically about PP.
posted by nadawi at 4:14 PM on August 26, 2011

The people that stand around on the streets and get your money are paid through commissions. How much I'm not sure. Then there's always all of the credit card and administrative costs. Your better off to go directly through planned parenthood themselves because at the very least then you will cut out the commissions.
posted by wallarookiller at 4:50 PM on August 26, 2011

Your literal actual check is going 100% to Planned Parenthood. I have run canvasses. At the end of the night, you count the checks and put em in a fedex envelope to the org you're raising money for. It all goes into the bank account of whoever you make the check out to. The same principle applies to credit cards, though I understand the "make the check out" part isn't there literally. Your check has the same direct and immediate impact as if you had walked it down to their fundraising office yourself.

Now, PP in this case IS paying the company running the canvass. Whether or not you think that's a good fundraising expense is obviously a totally valid question. In my opinion, from a purely by-the-numbers fundraising perspective canvassing is an excellent use of their limited funds: it's a proven method of consistent donor prospecting, and lifetime donor value is sufficient to justify the one-time expense of hiring a canvass firm. Every dollar you spend on the canvass leads to $N lifetime in new revenue, and N is very likely to be >1.

From another perspective, canvasses are questionable because many of the vendors are serial violators of wage and hour laws, they are absolute hardliners about crushing union organizing among their workers (and for companies that often employ dozens of underpaid organizers, that's HARD), and the industry is kind of based on exploiting the labor of idealistic 20-year olds, which is an acutely depressing way of killing their energy and creating disillusioned 22-year olds. The whole model is basically to find a rare and beautiful group of people (young, smart, idealistic people who are also willing to work their asses off) and just fuck 'em until they quit.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 5:06 PM on August 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

To be a bit more clear, the contract works like this: the org agrees to give the vendor a set amount of money to run a canvass that meets a certain set of criteria (that aren't always about the amount of $ raised). Then they run the canvass, and the org gets what it gets. That's it. They almost never break even in immediate terms (which is to say that the org spends more on the canvass than they get in donations in the exact envelopes sent back from the canvass offices), but they usually have a positive ROI in lifetime terms after about 2 years. Often an awesome ROI.

Also, the reason that some orgs prefer sustainer (e.g., monthly) gifts and some prefer one-off gifts is because some have determined they get more money lifetime from sustainer donors and some from one-off donors. Or because they just haven't done the hard work of building a sustainer program (which is almost always worth it).
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 5:26 PM on August 26, 2011

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