Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Sweet Charity

If you're a frequent reader around here, or someone who is (un)fortunate enough to experience my company in real life, you'll know that I'm often ambivalent about the role religion plays in my life. I don't want to sidetrack this entry by pontificating on what I believe or how I practice, but a small reference to religion is sort of necessary for a thorough consideration of today's topic, charity.

Religious ambivalence aside, I do believe very strongly in the concept of charity and good works, which is something that (however loosely) has trickled down from the long line of Scottish Presbyterians from whom I am descended. I do some volunteer work (though not as much as I ought to) in the community, and I donate money to charity when I can. Most of my money goes to scholarship funds at the university, but I also donate to the AIDS Committee of North Bay and Area, the OSPCA, the MS Society of Canada, the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, and the Terry Fox Foundation. I try to keep my support to secular charities where possible, because I've yet to find a religious charity with a mandate to which I can reconcile my belief structure. I also try to support charities that are Canadian when I can, because I believe that we often forget that there are a lot of people in our own country that need help. That said, however, I will donate to international aid organizations when I can.

Which is how, in January of 2010 (some full 18 months ago, for those of you keeping track at home), I came to donate some money to Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders after the earthquake in Haiti. It wasn't even a lot of money--maybe $25? However, since then, I have been bombarded with emails and paper newsletters from the organization. (In fact, according to my gMail account, I've received 30 emails since that donation; I would guess that I receive at least one paper mailing from them per month as well.) I would be willing to bet that by now, they have spent at least the cost of my donation on trying to convince me to donate more.

I might well have donated more at some point in the future, I think, were it not for the telephone call I received from them last night. I should've just ignored the phone, but I didn't. When I picked up, I got a five minute spiel from the caller, who outlined all of the "like, amazing" work MSF has been doing with my donation.1 She then asked me to consider a monthly gift of $25.2 When I told the caller that I had just been laid off from my job, and thus could not afford to lay out a monthly sum, she didn't even pause before saying, "Well, look around your house and see if you can round up some loose change to donate."

At that point, I did hang up.

Part of me wishes that I'd given her a piece of my mind--as much as I try not to be rude to people who are just doing their jobs, I think that courtesy should end when those people stop being polite to me. I find it completely galling that after I've just told someone that I no longer had gainful employment, that person would turn around and ask me for money. Yup, stuff is bad in other countries, and MSF largely does work that I support, but if I can't pay my own bills, if I can't feed my husband or my cats, then things are pretty bad in this country for me, and going into debt to make charitable donations is just plain stupid. In soliciting from me this aggressively, MSF has ruined any chance that they have of receiving money from me in the future.

Any tips on charities who treat their donors like people, rather than endless money bags?

1 I have a personal policy of not hanging up on telemarketers; I listen, I refuse politely, and then I ask to be taken off the calling list.
2 Given that I gave them $25 18 months ago, this seems unlikely.


Girl Tuesday said...

It's possible that they contract out their telemarketing, so that whoever you spoke to isn't actually part of their organization. Still, that's a pretty dick move on their part.

fineskylark said...

That's a good point. The phone number did actually say "DRS WO BORDERS" on my caller ID, though. Do you think it would be worth it to write them a letter and tell them that I won't be supporting them anymore because of the relentless solicitation? Or is that the equivalent of flouncing out of an online forum?

H said...

I donated to, hmm... might have been UNICEF... once? And they only just stopped sending my parents mail. I moved out 6 years ago.

I liked Cdn Red Cross for international disaster relief. Once they called and asked for a regular donation. I told them the reason I liked donating to them was that they DIDN'T harass me afterward. They thanked me for my time and I never heard from them again. #class

Anonymous said...

You need to send this post to them. They will appreciate it. The fundraising world is a big one, and they won't want to lose you. Trust me, they will appreciate it.

There are so many different types of donors out there, and approaches too. You are right it costs them so much money to send out appeals, and it is heavily debated in their offices I am sure. Charities hire consultants etc. It is a big deal and you need to give them this feedback.