July 13th, 2010

Charitable Failure

I think I am way too affected by telemarketers, because this is my second post in recent memory about one, but whatever–this incident freaked me out. If you have experience with charities or for some other reason can explain it to me, I’d be grateful.

So! About a month ago I got lured into chatting with one of those street canvassers for a charitable organization. I already knew of it and it sounded like a good group to me, so I offered to give the guy what was in my wallet, but he wanted to sign me up for a monthly donation plan with automatic withdrawals from my credit card. I said I was not going to give out my card # on the street, and he said he could take my phone number and we’d talk about it at a time I could pick, after I’d done some research and thought it over. I said ok.

They called last night. After a bit of chatter about the organization, I said I’d like to give them $100 (which is actually a lot of money to me). The very sweet, earnest young woman on the phone said they prefer to have monthly donations via direct withdrawal because processing costs are so much lower and also then they have a steady income to fund long-term projects. I didn’t see how the first worked–why would it be easier to process 12 little donations instead of 1 big one–but there is much I don’t know. Hesitantly (because I hate direct withdrawal and been screwed by it in the past), I said perhaps I could give $10 a month, and then in a year that would be just a bit more than my planned $100.

The volunteer (I asked her; that’s what she was) said that their minimum donation was $20/month and I said, “oh, I’m not going to do that.” I am worried this makes me sound cheap, but whatever, it wasn’t what I had budgeted. She suggested I just sign up for the monthly withdrawal and after 5 months I could quit. I said that didn’t sound like it would be very good for their long-term projects and she didn’t really answer, and then I said, “Let’s just go with the $100.”

This got me the spiel about spiralling processing and administrative costs again, and when I remained unmoved, a thanks for my time and honesty. “You won’t take the $100?” No, she wouldn’t, but I could always go to the website and figure it out for myself how to send the money. Politely, but firmly, she ended the conversation.

WTF? Are legit charities really discouraging modest donations these days? Was it some sort of scam operating under the name of a legit organization? Even so, it wasn’t a very good scam, since I offered my credit card number and she turned it down. Or is the entire organization (which has a *lot* of visibility in the media, to the point where even a media-loser like myself sees it) somehow less legit than I thought? Or am I just too cheap/afraid of scamsters to do the right thing?

Also, what should I do with that $100 I have now decided I want to give to a good cause? I could of course figure it out from the website–it’s not that difficult. But I am somewhat alarmed about those admin costs–what if it really *is* a waste of half the money? Also, well, my little feelings are hurt! I was feeling really good about being able to do something nice, and now I feel awful about the whole thing. I will end up giving it elsewhere–certainly, there’s no shortage of good causes. But I would still really like to know what went wrong with my sad failure to be generous.

All insights appreciated.

6 Responses to “Charitable Failure”

  • Mark says:

    Sounds like scam to me, RR. People don’t get that aggressive unless there’s some kind of profit motive involved.

    As for your outstanding $100, try the Canadian Red Cross. Last time I checked (back in early 2005, shortly after the Southeast Asia tsunami), you could make a one-off donation to the cause of your choice. Hope this helps.

  • Kerry Clare says:

    Don’t talk to those people… I’d give my $100 to the Daily Bread Foodbank, who take donations of all sorts.

  • Amy says:

    I like to give as close to the root as I can (does that make sense?) Like I give fifty bucks to the Thunder Bay Humane Society rather than the OSPCA, cause then I can actually watch them go out and buy food with it and give it to an animal who needs it. But I am skeptical of all organizations, period, so who knows.

  • AMT says:

    i recently told a telemarketer working for a charity that she should get a new job, because this one was not working out for her. … i hope you know me well enough to know that this indicates a high level of unreasonableness on their part. i felt crazy for hours afterwards.

    i refuse to give money on the phone in any circs and only do so online, because i feel like i want to reward charities that don’t call me but rather give me info i can deal with on my own time and with proper reflection (being what the internet allows so well.) … but then again i probably don’t give enough, and i too am pretty skeptical of any organization that is big enough to hire out their fundraising, so who indeed knows.

  • Rebecca says:

    Yeah, my mom said that this was probably hired-out fundraising, too, and that they only got their commissions if the donation was given a certain way. Which means the girl was lying when she told me she was a volunteer, which makes the whole experience even more awful. I guess I don’t even know where that phone call was coming from, really. Ugh.

  • patricia says:

    I’m very late to this conversation, but I just wanted to say that I like Kerry’s suggestion. These days I think it’s smarter to give your money to smaller organizations like the Daily Bread Foodbank.

    And whenever I see those young smiling faces gripping their binders and slowly coming towards me, I smile back, and make a clean break of it.

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