January 14, 2018 by Jean
When 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.