You’ve all gotten them, right? An envelope, or sometimes even a box, from some alleged charity you’ve never heard of before. You open it up and discover personalized mailing labels, greeting cards, a notepad, a tree ornament, a cheap electronic doodad, a coin, or whatever, along with a plea to send a donation.
The strategy the charity is employing is twofold: some confused old people and idiots will think they’re required to send a donation in exchange for the junk, and some others will feel compelled to send a donation because they would otherwise feel guilty about accepting something for nothing from a charity.
I call these “guilt mailings.”
(Interestingly, the UK’s Institute of Fundraising says they’re a no-no (page 8): “Fundraising organisations OUGHT to be able to demonstrate that the purpose of the enclosure was to enhance the message and/or the emotional engagement in the cause and not to generate a donation primarily because of financial guilt or to cause embarrassment.”)
I know what the senders of these mailings are trying to do, and I know it’s slimy, so I’m completely immune to their efforts to generate guilt. Not only that, but rather than prompting me to donate, guilt mailings tend to have the opposite effect — I tend to put any charity which uses them onto my “do not donate” list for good. If the freebie is useful, I go ahead and use it without any qualms at all. I’m heartless about it… when they send reply envelopes with stamps on them, I cut off the stamps and use them to send my own letters, just on principle.
I thought by now I’d seen it all, but I received in the mail today the guilt mailing to beat all guilt mailings, from St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota:
What have we got here? Taking it from the top:
- The envelope in which everything was packaged.
- A big card with a pretty picture and “Special Holiday Gifts for YOU from the Lakota children!” printed on it, with a ribbon, two bows, and a retractable ball-point pen taped to it.
- Twenty-four personalized address labels and six gift stickers, with “What shall I bring to the Lord, the God of heaven, when I come to worship him? – Micah 6:6” on the back of them. Oh, I don’t know, how about a retractable ball-point pen and some personalized address labels?
- The pitch letter about the poor Lakota Indian children (one of them with the fictional name “Emily Fire Cloud”; oh, it’s just too trite for words!) that St. Joseph’s wants you to help them missionize.
- Notepad (not personalized; cheapskates!) with the same bible quote on the back of it.
- The first of eight rather fancy Christmas cards with envelopes.
- Reply card and return envelope.
- More cards and envelopes, and finally, a piece of wrapping paper.
Imagine my surprise (not!) that the American Institute of Philanthropy has not issued a rating to this charity. They are a religious organization and therefore exempt from reporting laws, and they declined the AIP’s requests for information that would enable them to issue a rating. The BBB Wise Giving Alliance says that St. Joseph’s fails to meet three of the 20 standards they use to rate charities. And if you donate to St. Joseph’s, they’ll sell your personal information to make more money off of you. And let’s not forget about those messy allegations of abuse at the school.
Here’s my personal rating for St. Joseph’s: a big, fat, F.
UPDATE: The only sign of any organization other than St. Joseph’s on any of the materials enclosed in the mailing is this tiny logo on the back of the greeting cards, enlarged here for readability:
Googling for “reproducta” takes you to http://www.reproducta.com/, and the “For Fundraising” box on Reproducta’s home page takes you to http://www.quadrigaart.com/. Judging from the content on the latter site, this mailing was probably produced by Quadriga Art, Inc.
UPDATE [April 5, 2011]: It turns out that Quadriga Art, Inc. does not exactly have a stellar record. According to the American Institute of Philanthropy, at least two different charities for which Quadriga did fundraising, Disabled Veterans National Foundation and SPCA International, paid Quadriga so much for its services that they ended up in major debt to Quadriga, i.e., Quadriga charged them significantly more than they raised, to the tune of millions of dollars. Furthermore, at least one and perhaps both of these charities had contracts with Quadriga which required that their debt to Quadriga be paid off before they could use a single cent of donations for the services their charities were actually supposed to be providing. By utilizing Quadriga’s services, St. Joseph’s has affiliated itself with a fundraising company which thinks nothing of ripping off charities, and puts itself in the company of charities which are at best mismanaged and at worst fraudulent.
UPDATE [December 4, 2011]: Check out the dream-catchers (remarked upon by several people in comments below) that are currently being included in the guilt mailings from St. Joseph’s (click for a full-size image):