Requesting Donation to Charity with Free Gifts

by Barbara

I just received a "free" gift from National Veterans Foundation (NVF).

I get so many of these, and I don't like the idea of contributions being used for these cheap trinkets that end up in the waste basket.

Is this a legitimate fund raising gimmick?

Do we encourage this by sending contributions to charities that do this?



Enclosing some cheap trinket in a direct mail fundraising letter asking you to donate to a charity is one of our pet peeves with certain charities. The tactic is obviously designed to "guilt" you into making a donation to charity because you feel some moral obligation to "pay for" the item that was sent to you.

Let us first tell you that you have no legal obligation to pay for ANY unordered merchandise that arrives in your mail box. If you feel strongly about it, you can send the item back, or send a letter to the company telling them the item is available for them to pick up at a scheduled time and place. But it is not necessary that you do so. You are legally entitled to keep any unordered merchandise that is sent to you, free (unless, of course, it is obvious that the merchandise was intended for someone else and was delivered to you by mistake).

We recommend that if you send the trinket back, you enclose a letter explaining that you would prefer that they stop spending charitable donations on such fundraising items, and that you will not make a donation until they do. Or you can send the letter without paying the postage to return the trinket.

It is our personal policy not to donate to a charity that wastes charitable donations in this manner. We don't know of ANY donors who donate to charity in order to pay for these items, do you? If the charity has funds to spend on trinkets to send to people who may or may not make a donations, then they're already receiving too many donations, in our view.

These fundraising items vary widely.
Some we've seen include return address labels, bookmarks, greeting cards, pencils/pens, calendars, coins, and even a cheap necklace! At least return address labels are useful and don't automatically end up in the trash, but they're still wasting money that could better be used to support the charitable cause.

The simple reality is that as long as these methods work, charities will continue to use them. In order for charities to get the message, enough of us will have to let them know that as long as they engage in this wasteful practice, they won't be receiving donations from us.

We asked Daniel Borochoff, President of the American Institute of Philanthropy, for his comments on this practice. He said:

"Most people understand that the cards, coins, calendars, address labels, and other trinkets sent with charitable solicitation appeals can be very expensive for charities to produce and distribute. What a lot of people may not understand is that offering these free gifts is a very inefficient way to raise money.

People often feel guilted into sending a small donation in return for these gifts, but the sum of these small donations is often quite low compared to the related costs. Additionally, the donors who respond out of guilt are often not all that dedicated to the cause and may be unlikely to donate in the future.

Ultimately, soliciting with gifts is highly inefficient and takes money away from the programs that donors are intending to support.

If donors refuse to give to groups that over-solicit or solicit inefficiently with free gifts, then charities would have a strong economic motivation to solicit in a more responsible manor.

If you are interested in supporting a charity but are concerned about the waste resulting from inefficient soliciting, AIP encourages donors to ask the charity to decrease the frequency of its solicitations and to not include freebies. Letting organizations know that your donations are contingent upon them soliciting responsibly should encourage groups to move in the right direction."

AIP offers tips on how to reduce unwanted charity solicitations on their web site.


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