Friday, February 27, 2015

Generosity Assumed

“It’s OK to give to that charity; they pass muster.”

My wife and I are able to contribute to charities and we are grateful to be able to do so. Not wanting to waste resources, we are picky about those to whom we contribute. Either we have personal knowledge of them or they pass muster with one of the online charity evaluation web sites.

One of our favorites was local; it was fairly large and the founder still plenty visible, both at the facility and giving talks about it to any that would listen. Many of the talks are not specifically fund-raisers – they are billed as educational talks about the problems faced by people in poverty – but the evening usually involved an opportunity to contribute. Our first encounter with the founder may have been at one of these.

In any case, we liked the founder, believed the organization does good work, so we did a little research on the web.

We used the Charity Navigator web site, They combine financial performance metrics ( such as Program Expenses, Administrative Expenses, Fundraising Expenses ) and metrics of Accountability and Transparency ( such as Independent Board Members, No Material Division of Assets, Documents Board Meeting minutes ) in an x-y grid to come up with a final score of zero through four. Our charity got an overall score of 3, scoring 99 Financial, but only 81 Accountability/Transparency. ( See graph. ) This charity, using this measure, “Exceeds or meets industry standards and performs as well as or better than most charities in its Cause.”

CharityNavigator's Score for the Charity we Chose

As you may be able to tell from the graph, with a Financial score of 99, the Accountability and Transparency score would have to be approximately 86 get an overall score of 4. With the Accountability score of only 81, it is not possible to get an overall score of 4.

I found this analysis for the charity we were considering and hurriedly left my office; “That Charity passes muster,” I called to my wife. We sent a year-end contribution. It was more than a token, but not institution-changing; it was not going to cause any buildings to be named after us.

Not long after, the Charity sent a Thank You note. Reading the note humbled us; it confirmed the wisdom of our choice. The note told us how much the organization appreciated our gift and the sorts of differences the organization was making in people’s lives.

Then I noticed it; a small envelope, just large enough to contain a personal check, slid from somewhere in the Thank You note envelope. It was an unstamped envelope, addressed to the charity. There was printing on the underside of the back flap, providing space for me to identify who I am and where I live. It also had several box/number pairs, one of which was for me to identify how much I’m sending in this envelope. The Thank You note did not refer in any way to this envelope. Though I am not a rocket scientist, it did not take me long to realize this envelope was a not-too-subtle request for another donation.

I was, first, put-off; then, offended; finally impressed. They were, after all, saving the cost of another mailing by including this solicitation with the Thank You note, the postage for which was already paid ( or was this a rationalization? ).

We did not respond to that solicitation but we thought we'd give again the following year.

"Do you think I need to keep this envlope?" I asked my wife.

"I'd guess they'll send another," she replied, with a bit of a smirk.

The Thank You note for our second donation also included a solicitation envelope. No longer feeling like rationalizing, I was mostly just offended. That second donation was several years ago, and we have not given since. True to my wife's prediction, that charity no longer waits for a Thank You note to send us the solicitation envelope. They reliably send one about once a month. We no longer support this institution. Its habit of asking for more when thanking for current donations is part of the reason.

Getting a letter with the effective but unspoken message, “Thanks very much for your generosity. Do you think you could be generous again? Right now?” is very off-putting and may, all by itself, get a charity off our list. Call us old-fashioned.
If you would like to comment but don't care to use the comment field, send an email to

No comments:

Post a Comment