Constant Contact and Donor Fatigue


January 14, 2018 by Jean

donations clipartWhen I listen to the morning news on NPR, I often hear “Constant Contact” listed as one of the program’s sponsors. Constant Contact is an internet marketing company that promises to help businesses and nonprofits get greater yield from their marketing efforts by automating email contact with customers; and the word “constant” in the company’s name tells you something about the frequency of those automated email messages.

Whether or not they actually use the services of this internet marketing company, many organizations, profit-making and nonprofit alike, seem to have adopted the “constant contact” model. Once these organizations have your email address, they will bombard you with email messages, often daily. You can try to opt out by clicking the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of each message, but it doesn’t always bring any relief. And, even when it does, organizations’ tendency to “share” customer contact information with one another means that relief is often short-lived.

In recent years, I’ve come to feel harassed by many of the nonprofit organizations whose work I’ve been supporting with donations. I actually got four requests for money in a single day from one medical non-profit, two delivered by the U.S. Postal Service and two in my email. One environmental nonprofit has been in the habit of sending me a “reminder” to renew my annual membership within three weeks of my actually doing so and then repeating the reminders at increasingly frequent intervals for the next eleven months. These incessant requests for donations feel a lot like being hounded by debt collectors.

This fall, I realized that the constant requests for money were making me feel increasingly stressed. I take my responsibility to make a positive difference in the world, including by making charitable donations, seriously, and I designate 5% of my annual budget for charitable donations. Although that is less than the donation levels of people who truly tithe, it seems like a sustainable level for me. But the message I was getting from many of the organizations I donate to was that no matter how much I gave, it would never be enough and never really make much of a difference. This left me feeling both hopeless and cynical, a marked contrast to my usual optimistic, can-do attitude to life.

By late fall, I decided that I needed to get out from under the harassment of the nonprofit bill collectors and regain control of my life. I thought about sending a letter to each organization explaining my experience and concerns, but doing so would take  a lot of energy, and I wasn’t sure it would make any difference. Instead, I’ve decided to change my donation strategy. I am not changing the amount of money I donate to nonprofits, but I am changing which organizations I donate to. I’m focusing my efforts on small, local organizations and on struggling national organizations that don’t have large corporate marketing operations. I will probably end up supporting fewer organizations, but sending each of them larger contributions. Any organization that sends me more than one request for money in a three-month period or more than four in a year will be struck from my list.

I am hoping to regain my sense that I can do some good and make a difference in the world by supporting organizations whose goals I believe in.

14 thoughts on “Constant Contact and Donor Fatigue

  1. Florence says:

    Oh do I ever hear you! It is never ending. I realized that there are more worthy causes that I could ever possibly donate to and that it was just flat stressing me out. So I designated a specific monthly amount for charitable donations and that’s what I give. I could divide the monthly amount to give to more than one organization but I don’t because I have prioritized and want to give more $$$ to fewer groups.

    • Jean says:

      Florence, I have long budgeted a specific amount per month to give to charity, but I did divide it up among multiple groups. Now I am, like you, giving more to fewer organizations.

  2. Charles F. Emmons says:

    This resonates with me too. I no longer give money to organizations that have enough resources to send me mugs etc. (or insist on sending me things when I ask them not to). I still donate to some organizations that send me frequent emails, but I have gotten used to deleting their emails. AARP recently asked me by mail to renew, and I checked my membership card and found I had five years left on my membership.

    • Jean says:

      Charlie, I long ago stopped donating to groups that send me unwanted “gifts” or merchandise. (I don’t mind groups like Public Radio that have pledge gifts, because they let me opt out of those gifts.) My biggest pet peeve is so-called “environmental” organizations that send unwanted merchandise that harms the environment three ways — when it is produced, when it is transported, and when it is thrown away. I gave up on AARP after one year because I was so appalled by the amount of junk mail (both real and virtual) that came with the membership.

  3. Nync says:

    I have several strategies to deal with this problem. First, I have an email address that I use for “junk mail.” When I sign up for something that might result in junk mail, I use this address. Second, when some disaster occurs, I send a donation to the disaster fund of my large national church, which always has a fund drive for every disaster. They already have my contact info, so I don’t get put on a new list. Third, for one-time donations, I will sometimes send an envelope with anonymous cash. I know they say not to send cash, but so what? I used to work for a nonprofit, and when we received cash, it was handled very responsibly. Finally, I managed to afford a life membership to 2 of my 3 alumni associations. One of them actually had a half-price sale & I jumped on it. So as you can probably tell, Jean, you’re not the only one who has done a lot of thinking about this issue!

    • Jean says:

      Nync, You’ve clearly given this a lot of thought, and I’m impressed by the measures you’ve taken to cut down on “constant contact.” Doesn’t it seem odd, though, that organizations that want your money would make you work so hard to give it to them!

  4. Jean R. says:

    It gets me how quickly the charities are able to find us in all forms. I sent the Red Cross my after the hurricanes and I did it through PayPal, think they wouldn’t have my contact information that way. Wrong. I now get requests from them in email, snail mail and on Facebook. I’m sure if I looked up in the sky it would be in skywriting. Political donations generate a lot of snail mail because candidates borrow mailing lists. On the good side, all the donation requests that come in by snail mail is helping to keep them in business. I’ve been thinking of setting up an email account just to use on places that require them but will be asking for money down the road.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, Many years ago, I donated to a big national charity in response to a major famine in Ethiopia. In the months that followed, they sent me so many follow-up requests for money that I became convinced that none of my money had ever provided a single morsel of food to anyone in Ethiopia. I never donated money to that organization again; but over thirty years and several moves later, they have kept up with my address changes and still send me regular requests for money (still misspelling my name the same way they did initially).

  5. Brenda says:

    I like your change in strategy. Often it’s the small, local organizations, such as libraries, where your money will really make a difference.

    • Jean says:

      Brenda, That is what I have decided. There are some statewide organizations whose work I’d like to support, but whose fundraising I find oppressive, but I’ve discovered that I can support them through regular monthly contributions to MaineShare, an organization that never harasses me for money.

  6. Sue McPhee says:

    I can relate and agree. I consider money solicitations by snail mail as junk mail and immediately throw the paper work into paper re-cycle. Emails can be a bit annoying but they immediately get deleted. I have chosen two very needy local organizations and have a small amount sent to them out of my checking account automatically on a monthly basis. I am personally acquainted with the folks who run them and get thank you cards from them on a regular basis…. NOT more solicitation. I have tried to convince them to “save a stamp” as I am aware of their appreciation, yet they still feel compelled to do the thank yous…. which is far better than solicitations for more money. We are in control of where our money goes and if these big organizations want to waste their money constantly sending you stuff, well… it’s their dime. I am peacefully content in my donating efforts.

    • Jean says:

      Sue, I also put most requests straight into recycling without opening them. This month I have been vigilant in “unsubscribing” from organizations that have been overwhelming me with their email solicitations.

  7. Diana Studer says:

    We support two animal charities – the large national one against big issues like dogfighting, and our local one where we found Zoe.
    And pushy emails, or landline calls, get binned.

    • Jean says:

      Diana, I used to try to be polite to the people who called on the phone, explaining that I never give in response to telephone solicitations and asking them to take me off their call list. Now I just hang up as soon as they start into their spiel.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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