Donating to charity without being added to the mailing list?
January 14, 2013 7:28 AM   Subscribe

One of my goals for 2013 is to donate a certain amount of my income to charity every month. I'm really excited about it - especially picking the groups that will receive my hard-earned $$$$$ (okay, $$$). But I'm NOT excited about the prospect of being put on mailing lists.

Last year I donated to a well-known wildlife organization. In my letter to them, I specifically asked not to be put on their mailing list. I don't want to be inundated with junk mail, requests for more money, mail from their friend organizations asking for more money, etc. Unfortunately, that's just what I got. I get a handful of solicitations a week from the wildlife org as well as other animal/environmental orgs - and I assume they got my name from the wildlife org, because I've never had any contact with them otherwise.

On the other hand, I donate regularly to NPR and they rarely contact me directly. Maybe twice a year I get an "increase your sustaining membership!" letter and I also get an annual report. That's the right amount of communication for me. I could do without listening to the fund drives on the radio, but that's not a big deal for me.

Is there some sort of magical language that one can use when donating money to a charity to make it clear how much communication I want there to be? I'd like to make it clear that I do not want solicitations, spammy junk mail, or to have my info shared with other like-minded organizations, etc. Would a phone call be more effective than a letter in this case? If I donate "anonymously", would I still wind up on lists (my name would be on the check...)?

If the only way to donate without being added to a list is to find a representative of the organization, throw them a wad of cash, and run away without giving my name... I guess I'd be willing to do that.
posted by Elly Vortex to Work & Money (16 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Donate to smaller organizations who actually care about your preferences. NPR may not be contacting you often but are you sure they didn't sell your contact info to other charities for the purpose of direct fundraising mailings?

You can also donate anonymously through websites without providing your address/contact information to the organization you are giving to. If you don't like giving on websites you can give through third parties (like the United Way campaign, for example) and specify that your information not be shared with the organization - except that the third party will then have your contact info. By the way I salute you for the honorable goal of charitable giving you have said. If more people would do the same the world would be a better place.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:34 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I donate regularly to local educational projects via DonorsChoose. I have been placed on no mailing lists aside from a thank you email from each teacher first at the initial donation point and then again upon the project's completion. You can opt out of all contact very easily.

I too have tried being very extremely seriously explicit in my desire to never be placed on any mailing lists ever with regular donations to large organizations and not a single one has ever, ever, EVER heeded my wishes. When I stopped donating to the organizations to which I used to donate regularly, I sent them a terse letter explaining that my reason for refusing to give them any more money was their inability to adhere to my express wishes to not receive any solicitations from them or their "partners". None of them cared and they continue to solicit from me. This is especially offensive to me as I know many of these people professionally and, though my job, I am responsible for huge annual grants to their organizations.

And yes, if your donation is anonymous they will still spam you.
posted by elizardbits at 7:35 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

I donate through a UK portal called Justgiving. There are several equivalents in the US.

I can specifically state if the charity gets my contact details or not.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:35 AM on January 14, 2013

Best answer: Donor database manager here. Not going on any solicitation mailing lists and not having your information sold/traded/shared are options on every single nonprofit database record used by reputable nonprofits. Just because you state it doesn't mean your request will be honored, though, because you have no way of knowing who is entering your information into the database. It's a human being unless you're donating somewhere you've donated before that uses bar codes/MICR lines. That human being could be anywhere along the spectrum from really dedicated to adhering to donors' wishes to phoning it in.

If you don't want your information used in this way by a US Nonprofit, you have to obscure your donation somehow. Sorry, I know they're supposed to offer opt-outs and the like, but the reality is that if their bio processor is out for the day and someone is subbing in, one keystroke can mean the difference between privacy and mail inundation.

The quickest way to do this that doesn't involve throwing a wad of cash at someone is to find an organization you like that uses to process their online donations. They have their own problems, but one of the things they do is let you obscure your contact information with the click of a button, so that when Networkforgood passes along the money to the nonprofit you choose, you are totally anonymous.

A less quick way to do this is to set up a "Charity Account" bank account without your name on it and a PO Box, and write checks from that account only.

An even less quick way to do it but one which is worthwhile if you have a lot of money to give is to set up a Donor Advised Fund at your local Community Foundation. Just put your charity dollars in there a the beginning of a year, set up your DAF, and instruct them to give your money out anonymously.

If you have more questions about this, MeMail me. I can help.
posted by juniperesque at 7:51 AM on January 14, 2013 [14 favorites]

Just unsubscribe. I've found it's not worth the time to make all these requests of organizations I support. They propably outsource their mailing list management. There seems to be no coordination between fundraisers and tech people. Yeah, so unsubscribe.

With catalogues, I call a company or organization's 800 number the minute I receive a catalogue. This has drastically reduced the number of catalogues I get. Mailings start up again when I place an order, so I make another call.
posted by Elsie at 7:57 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

In all my donations, I have asked to not be put on mailing lists. I get about 90 percent compliance, and when I do get any solicitations, I just email the fundraising department (or whoever's email I can find quickest) and almost always get a quick apology and promise to have my name removed. Their job is to make donors happy.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:22 AM on January 14, 2013

If you don't have enough money for a donor advised fund (as juniperesque mentions), an alternative approach is to make a donation anonymously via your attorney.

It's a shame that this is even necessary, but some non-profits can't respect their donors' privacy even when you clearly and politely specify your preference not to be solicited. I had the same problem with the American Cancer Society.
posted by tomwheeler at 9:26 AM on January 14, 2013

I'm going to go with treehorn+bunny's suggestion that you go with smaller organizations that see your contribution as more than just something to be leveraged by selling your name to every professional fundraising organization out there.

It's a struggle, because some of those big organizations seem to have the best policy lobbying operations, but when the A/B testing is sending me 4 copies of different subject lines over the exact same email per day, and deluging me with "your membership is expiring, renew now!" 4 months after my last annual donation, I figure that if they can pay that much money on professional fundraising organizations calling me regularly they can afford to put some reasonable CRM software in place for tracking their donors.

There are plenty of awesome organizations doing great things that are a few to a few tens of people giving their hearts and lives to a cause that throwing more money to big national organizations with over-paid executive directors seems like a fool's game.
posted by straw at 9:29 AM on January 14, 2013

You can do this by phone -- if you call and ask for their development/donations department. That takes out the chance aspect of things scrawled on a donation form, and you can pick your handful of charities without getting your mailbox stuffed. Specifically, tell them how often you want a donation reminder (I've gone with annual), and that you want your name kept off of any lists shared with or sold to other organizations. Anybody credible can do both of those things, especially if you make your membership/support contingent.

I just shaved down from some 60 organizations to 10, and I was sure to tell each of them that when I contacted them -- both those who I wrote to say I was leaving (they say it takes 6 weeks for already printed mailings to finish up) and those I was sticking with. You can do the same, especially if you specify things from the outset.

Good luck!
posted by acm at 9:32 AM on January 14, 2013

I donate through a payroll deduction program at work, and never get on any mailing lists.

I know it's not widely available, but just a thought.
posted by politikitty at 10:43 AM on January 14, 2013

You must have gotten lucky with NPR... after we donated we received calls EVERY SINGLE DAY from an area code in Washington (state). I wasn't able to answer at the time they were calling and they weren't leaving messages so I didn't know who it was. When I was finally able to answer (after ~2 weeks) and learned it was them, and that the guy couldn't remove me from the list, I was pretty angry.

Anyway, nthing the smaller organization suggestion, as they will be more sensitive to your wishes. And it's more likely they will spend most of your money on whatever their cause is, rather than spending it on calling/mailing/emailing you for more money.
posted by jshort at 11:00 AM on January 14, 2013

Elsie: I've found it's not worth the time to make all these requests of organizations I support.
If they won't respect this simple request, they aren't worth my donation. Fuck them; other charities do good work and behave responsibly.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:29 AM on January 14, 2013

I use this service and it's been pretty effective, even for nonprofits: Catalog Choice
posted by ohohcyte at 12:27 PM on January 14, 2013

If you have $$$$ (actually $5,000), you can create a donor-advised fund at Fidelity, but the fees are $100 per year.

That seems like a lot of trouble to go through when you could get a $1000 money order from the post office for $1.55.
posted by wnissen at 8:39 PM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can always call the charity and ask if they sell their mailing lists. As people have said above, smaller charities usually don't sell their lists. What I would do though is just go to the bank, get a cashier's check and mail it to the charity in an envelope with no return address.
posted by entropyiswinning at 9:42 PM on January 14, 2013

Response by poster: Unfortunately, the amount I am donating isn't enough to justify something like a donor-advised fund or an attorney. I have some charities in mind that are small (local hiking trail association, scholarship fund at a small college in memory of a friend, etc) and some are big (Red Cross, Heifer Int'l). I think that, given the advice above, I'm going to make inquiries over the phone or in person if possible. It sounds like my bad experience with the Well-known Wildlife Organization may have been a fluke.

Thanks for the advice, everybody! You have given me some good ideas and set my mind at ease.
posted by Elly Vortex at 7:28 AM on January 15, 2013

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