Are coin-mailing charities stupid and wasteful?

Coins
Here’s a case of almost criminal sloppiness in reporting about fundraising — from USA Today: Charities mail out coins, hope for larger return. The lead:

A growing number of charities across the USA are taking a nickel-and-dime approach to encourage donations by mail, despite some evidence that including coins in solicitations turns off potential donors.

The sum total of the “evidence” that coins turn off potential donors are a quote from the president of Charity Navigator and another quote from a mother of four from Springfield, VA, who remembers being annoyed by a coin mailing a few years ago.

With nary an actual fact about coin-based fundraising between them.

There were also several quotes from fundraisers and experts who made the obvious point that coin mailings are done because they work (not in order to annoy people), and the fact that coins are being used in fundraising is proof that they indeed work. But that somehow didn’t cause the lead of the story to be Charities send out coins because it works.

It’s no big surprise that reporting in USA Today is sloppy, incomplete, and slanted.

It’s worse that Charity Navigator used the megaphone handed to them by an enquiring reporter to continue their War on Fundraising. This time by joining the press meme that charitable organizations are a bunch of idiotic, annoying stumblebums who don’t even know they’re wasting all their money.

While I’ve come across a few nonprofits that fit that description, most are professional, smart, and careful with every dollar. Spreading the other impression is unfair, harmful to good causes, and utterly irresponsible.

I wish Charity Navigator would take a more fact-based approach to this and other similar fundraising tactics, and say something like this:

We know that getting unsolicited coins in the mail annoys many people, because we get complaints about it all the time. But most nonprofit organizations are smart and responsible and are constantly working to find the most efficient and effective ways to raise funds. They send coins because doing so is a positive motivation for many people.

Telling the public what they can do to reduce or opt out of coin mailings (even mailings in general) would also be perfectly fair.

But helping spread the belief that nonprofits in general are stupid and wasteful — that gives people one more reason not to give, which undermines our fundraising effectiveness. Which hurts the good work we all do.


Comments

4 responses to “Are coin-mailing charities stupid and wasteful?”

  1. Nick Ellinger Avatar
    Nick Ellinger

    I’m one of the guys quoted in that piece. I, like you, was hoping that the lead would be that sending coins works. But I was at least glad they had multiple (OK, two) non-profits who use them in the piece and I thought the quote from Melissa Brown at the Center on Philanthropy was a good one.
    On the whole, it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped nor as bad as I’d feared.

  2. Nick Ellinger Avatar
    Nick Ellinger

    I’m one of the guys quoted in that piece. I, like you, was hoping that the lead would be that sending coins works. But I was at least glad they had multiple (OK, two) non-profits who use them in the piece and I thought the quote from Melissa Brown at the Center on Philanthropy was a good one.
    On the whole, it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped nor as bad as I’d feared.

  3. Jeff, I came across your post after reading the article you mention.
    As someone who takes charitable giving seriously, sending me coins and sending me requests for money using priority mail are things which make me withdraw my support for an organization. You argue that this works, but I seriously question that. You may get an increase in donations from that particular mailing, but if you piss off medium-sized and major donors who are dedicated to supporting charities long-term and find these antics annoying and wasteful, did you really gain or did you lose overall? Are people simply comparing the donations that come in from the nickel vs. non-nickel batch, or do those calculations include the loss from serious donors who withdraw their long-term support? And are those donations smaller donations compared to what serious donors give? Smaller donations take longer to process–is the cost of that processing included in the calculation? (If you have links to articles or papers on this, please post them–I would be interested in knowing the answers to these questions.)
    As for asking to reduce mail, I do that–I ask to get one mailing a year. I also try to send larger checks less frequently to cut down on the time and money spent processing the donation and the thank you letter. Apparently, though, some organizations won’t respect that request. Sending me money is the last straw for them.

  4. Jeff, I came across your post after reading the article you mention.
    As someone who takes charitable giving seriously, sending me coins and sending me requests for money using priority mail are things which make me withdraw my support for an organization. You argue that this works, but I seriously question that. You may get an increase in donations from that particular mailing, but if you piss off medium-sized and major donors who are dedicated to supporting charities long-term and find these antics annoying and wasteful, did you really gain or did you lose overall? Are people simply comparing the donations that come in from the nickel vs. non-nickel batch, or do those calculations include the loss from serious donors who withdraw their long-term support? And are those donations smaller donations compared to what serious donors give? Smaller donations take longer to process–is the cost of that processing included in the calculation? (If you have links to articles or papers on this, please post them–I would be interested in knowing the answers to these questions.)
    As for asking to reduce mail, I do that–I ask to get one mailing a year. I also try to send larger checks less frequently to cut down on the time and money spent processing the donation and the thank you letter. Apparently, though, some organizations won’t respect that request. Sending me money is the last straw for them.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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