I donate regularly to several animal-related charities, but every time I give, I am inundated by solicitations from many other animal-related charities who most likely bought my contact information from a mailing list. Same thing happens when I give to an organization that fights cancer. Every other cancer charity, plus a few organizations that specialize in fighting other diseases, suddenly start asking for contributions. I'm sure most of these are worthy causes, but a person could go broke supporting all of them.
Often, along with the request for money, charities send me personalized address labels, note cards, note pads, or calendars. Some of them are quite pretty. I can't remember the last time I ever had to buy a calendar, scratch pads, or personalized address labels.
But then come the guilt letters. "Just checking to see if you received the new calendar we sent you. Here's another envelope for your donation, which we're depending on to...." Wait a minute! I didn't order that calendar. You said it was a free gift. I didn't even know you were sending it.
My mother-in-law and I used to discuss this moral dilemma. At first, she thought the solicitations would go away if she'd just send a check. Instead, they multiplied. With more "free gifts" for which payment was expected.
Still, she'd admonish, how can I ethically use something I didn't pay for? It's a beautiful calendar; it must have been expensive to produce. (So that's what the charity did with my donation?)
But what to do with all these "free gifts" with strings attached? Return them? Am I obliged to pay the postage, too? It would be insulting to return the items in the prepaid, self-addressed envelopes the organization sent in anticipation of a donation. (The ones that try to guilt you further by suggesting you affix your own stamp to increase the value of your donation.) And besides, what are they going to do with personalized address labels with my name on them? I'm not helping the charity by sending their stuff back.
So I use the items. Shamelessly. I make my grocery lists on their note pads. Excess address labels make great "low-tech LoJack" for cell phones, glasses cases, and Tupperware containers. If I receive more calendars than I can use, I offer them to others who might need one. And even if the charity didn't get a donation from me, I'm helping to increase awareness for its work.
I still donate as much as I can afford to the causes I believe in, but I don't base my decision on the fact that the organization sent me a calendar.
How do you feel about "free gifts" with charitable solicitations? I would love to hear your comments.