Friday, December 2, 2016

Non-profits: We don't need "free gifts!"

'Tis the season of giving, but I have to wonder sometimes whether material generosity, while perhaps well-intentioned, does not undermine more important principles and charitable efforts. Is it just me, or do others also find it annoying that otherwise worthy non-profit organizations use the promise of a "free gift" to encourage you to join? Personally, I would rather have as many of my membership dollars as possible go directly to the cause.

Here is a list of all the "free gifts" that I have found enclosed, or for which I am eligible with membership to organizations varying from Natural Resources Defense Council to Audubon to Nature Conservancy to World Wildlife Fund:

  • tote bag
  • Address labels (enclosed)
  • bird guide app
  • fleece blanket
  • plush toy animal
  • bird feeder
  • lunch tote
  • a penny (enclosed)
  • umbrella
  • travel cup
  • water bottle
  • calendar (enclosed)
  • petition (enclosed) Hey, asking something more of me is not a bad thing!

Ok, I get that you want me to advertise your non-governmental organization (NGO) by sporting that tote or knapsack, drinking from that cup, or hanging that calendar in my workplace. Since I have now collected four unsolicited calendars, I can have one at home, too, plus my summer house....Wait, I don't have a summer house. Who do you think I am?

Even the address labels would be fine....if any of us actually used "snail mail" to deliver anything any more. I doubt the utility vendors, loan providers, and credit card companies even glance at the incoming bills we are remitting. I think if I saw "free annual report enclosed" on an envelope, whereby I assume you would account for all of your spending of our membership dollars, I might even open it up and take a look.

Two pieces of mail did get my attention with what I hope is the future of membership recruitment, at least in part. The American Indian Relief Council, which is now Northern Plains Reservation Aid, promises a $2-for-$1 Matching Gift Challenge. The American Indian Education Fund wins me over a bit with their persistence: the first, and so far last, time I donated was back in 2008. They also promised a "matching gift offer enclosed." The Audubon Society finally jumped on this bandwagon and is offering a dollar for dollar matching gift, with a deadline of December 31.

The real gift we all want is the gift of accountability. Literally, in the financial sense of accounting. We want to know our hard-earned dollars are doing what we think they should be, be that providing relief to indigenous peoples, purchasing land that will be set aside in perpetuity as wildlife habitat, or some other noble, tangible outcome.

We recognize you have overhead in the form of employees, offices, travel, legal representation, utility bills, publicity, and other necessities in this day and age of business competition realities. What you may be lacking is marketing research, focus groups, and more tech-savvy means of membership recruitment, judging by how archaic your mass mailings have become. I have been getting the same offers since at least the 1980s. Get innovative already. Get to know who your members, or prospective members, are and what they expect and desire. Really, how many tote bags do I need?

1 comment:

  1. Yup, sad world when our nature protectors do this. A couple of years ago I made a donation to TNC online and followed up with an email within minutes asking to opt out of the free gifts and their free magazine. Along with asking to opt out I suggested changing their website to allow givers to opt out during the online donation process. Well I got the prize package anyway and it took forever to get off their magazine and junk mail list. And their website has not been changed to allow opt-out. Irresponsible use of resources is a big turn-off for me and I have not donated since.

    Plus some of their forest resource management practices at least up here in WI are questionable. In exchange for stewards clearing fallen trees from firebreaks they were allowing them to remove those trees from the forest for fuel. And overuse of fire.