Dear charities: stop spamming me

And while I’m complaining


Last night, I opened my big backlog of snail-mail. When I say “big” I mean that if I could have got it all to stand up in a single stack, it would have been between two and three feet high, and that I was up until 3:30am ploughing through it.

On the whole, I feel much better for having cleared it all out, and seen the letters from the Tax office in December 2011 reminding me that the deadline for filing was going to be January 2012. But as I went through it all, I was shocked at how very much of it — maybe a third of the total — was spam from charities that I have no relationship with.

I don’t mind so much when I get letters from charities that I’ve chosen to give to (although frankly even for most of them, I sort of wish they’d just take my money and shut up). But it’s the ones I’ve never contacted that I really resent. People I’ve never even heard of, writing begging letters out of the blue. Not only that, some of them are bizarre charities to be contacting me, and I can’t imagine where they got my details from. For example, one of them wanted me to give them £3 a month to feed a dog. I don’t even like dogs. In fact, I actively dislike them. If anything, I’d pay £3 a month to starve a dog. [Note: disregard that last sentence if you are a dog-lover.]

But what really gets my goat is all the crud they send me. These are completely unsolicited “gifts”, and that’s what the photo above shows. I am now the not-very-proud owner of:

  • Two separate sets of name-and-address stickers, all of them referring to me as “Mr. M. Taylor”, when I’ve been Dr. Taylor since 2009.
  • A grotty bookmark.
  • An admittedly quite nice Wonders of the World 2013 calendar.
  • Some inexplicable greetings cards with pictures of staple foods on them.
  • A pair of nasty coasters.
  • A plethora of more conventional greetings cards, with envelopes — I make it about ten in the top (landscape) file and five in each of the three lower portrait piles).
  • Two little notepads with sticky backs.
  • A small plastic syringe (yes, really), which is partly hidden behind the landscape envelopes in the picture above.
  • A small plastic spoon.
  • Four pens from three different charities.
  • A tiny, tiny pair of socks. What?
  • (Not pictured) Two separate gifts of 12p each, now in my pocket and destined to pay for half of a Mars Bar.

I just hate all this. I don’t even want to think about how much money these charities wasted in getting all this crud designed, made and sent to me. What makes it worse is that a lot of these are reputable charities — people like the Red Cross — who you’d expect better of.

The lesson this teaches is: if you give money to one charity, they will tell their buddies and you’ll be inundated with spam forever. I’ve never given any charity permission to send my details to others, but that apparently hasn’t stopped them. What a rotten way to behave.

Because I had such a shedload of post to get through, I just junked all the spam without further action this time. But I’m not going to keep doing that. From now on, when I get spammed, I will send the junk back to the originator in the pre-paid envelope, with a big STOP SPAMMING ME message scrawled over it.

11 responses to “Dear charities: stop spamming me

  1. The reason for the “gifts” is that people are more likely to pay attention and give if a bit of tat is included! If it didn’t make a difference or cost more than it brought in then they wouldn’t go to the additional expense.

  2. Then how do you explain the socks?

  3. “Think of the children”

  4. Oh, I’m quite annoyed by the charity spam from charities I have given to; I donated, thats it, end of relationship; I’ve done my part – now be efficient and use the money wisely; do not send letters every 3 weeks thereafter and phone every month… thats what – 40c/mail in stamps?

    i) It makes you feel like your donation is wasted
    ii) It makes you feel like they think you’re a chump for having given to them, that they can treat you like a bank

    Now I tend to be careful.. check online, make sure they’re not scams, and find out what their flow through rate is; if they’re keeping 5% for administration, okay fine; but some of these guys are 40, 50% administration… just terrible.

  5. I actually happen to work for a non-profit, and in fact, in the fundraising department of said non-profit.

    As-far-as-I-know, we don’t send out tatty/bling-laden mailers. In fact, for a couple years now, the practice has been to try to be a lot more targeted with mailngs–that is not necessarily that we send out fewer/less, although sometimes we do that. But mostly that we ensure to not do things like
    1) send out four or five mailings to the same person in the same year
    2) if a given donor routinely makes just one small donation a year, and they’ve already done so for this year… then don’t mail them

    Ok, there’s a lot more points I ought to list there, but I’m not the one directly responsible for it. The guy that is has a *ton* of criteria he uses.

    But then there’s another part of this, and that’s /acquisition/. Every so often, you want to try to find new donors. So typically in this case, you have to buy a list of names from some other company, then mail to them once and sort of cross your fingers. Actually, this might be the reason for most of the junk. But only if all those charities were trying to acquire new donors at the same time. They might’ve all bought the same list.

    See–on an acquisition mailing, because you have to buy a list of names up-front, it’s almost always a guarantee that on that first mailing, you’ll actually be *losing* money. Some companies probably figure that if they’re going to be losing money anyway, then why not put in extra splashy stuff to get your attention? (They, the charities, not realizing that you, Mike, might get way too much noisy shiny crap all at the same time.)

    The idea with acquisition is that you hope that a non-trivial portion of those you mail to will go ahead and send in a donation. So then those folks–the ones that donate, those are the ones you mail again next time. The ones that never responded, well they ought not even be added to the (donor) database.

    However.. they (you, Mike) are still in some 3rd party company’s database as a likely general purpose prospect and with a default addressee of “Mr. M. Taylor”. Best results might be achieved by figuring how to be removed from *that* database.

    I hope that mostly made sense. I’m feeling a little ramble-y and I don’t have time to go back and edit right now.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  6. That does all make sense, thanks. The question is, what bunch of cowboys have my name on a database that they sell, and what sort of coyboy charities buy databases of names? I will never respond to these cold-call mailings, even if it’s from a charity that works in an area I believe in deeply. It has to be a principle: don’t spam. It’s that simple.

  7. Yes, it’s a good principle. I quite agree. Trouble is, sometimes that principle runs into the reality “we need money” and the moral compromise-grease called “everybody’s doing it”. I might be totally wrong, but.. I’m pretty sure all the charities are doing it. Based on your mail and my supposition about how they got your name, the Red Cross is probably doing it.

    If you try to stop them from doing it, they will complain that all the other charities are doing it. If you try to stop all the charities at once, they will complain that all the for-profit companies get to do it.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  8. And yet there are plenty of charities that do not do it.

  9. my first job out of college was working for the campus computer center to support the fundraising and alumni relations people. there was one graduate who would routinely _shred_ any mailing, put it all in the business reply envelope, and mail it back. _really_ ticked off the head of fundraising, to the extent that she started coding the reply envelopes in the hope of narrowing down who it was.

  10. Pingback: Saying goodbye to the first two charity spammers | The Reinvigorated Programmer

  11. Pingback: How to drive away a repeat customer, in four identical steps | The Reinvigorated Programmer

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