Oy vey, will it never end?

Back in 1998, I joined the ACLU for a one-year term. Since mailing that single check, I haven’t contacted the organization once. Can you believe that they are STILL sending me renewal notices in the mail? At least once every two weeks I receive a mailing stamped “FINAL RENEWAL NOTICE” across it in big red letters. This is all despite the fact that TEN YEARS HAS PASSED and I have moved three times since that one-time incident. How are they finding me? Why won’t they leave me alone?

Are these supposed “defenders of liberty” going to hound me to my grave? Will they hound my estate, my heirs, my heirs’ heirs? Honestly, I would like to know the answer to those questions.

The ACLU isn’t the only organization that does this. (Though in my experience, they are the worst.)

Unfortunately, many non-profits and charities operate in a similar manner. I’ve seen similar campaigns from the NRA – they repeatedly hound me about donations despite the fact that I haven’t been a member for years. (Luckily, I think I lost them on my last move.)

The very unfortunate consequence of this behaviour is that it has led both me and my family members to sharply curtail our charitable contributions. Some examples:

  • Just a few months ago, an organization called my business soliciting a donation for the local police force. I know that the police have a very difficult job to do, so I pledged a small amount. With 2 weeks I had received at least three similar calls from other police-related organizations. Did they sell my name to these organizations? Did they just put me on a list of likely donors & share that with their sister organizations? Either way, doesn’t matter to me. I am extremely unlikely to donate money to them in the future.
  • I used to regularly donate blood to the American Red Cross. Since I’m what they call a “universal donor,” they would often call me on the day I was eligible to make another donation and ask if I could schedule another appointment. If I declined, they would call again in a few more days. Repeated requests to be removed from their call list did no good. Each time the representative would assure me that I’d been removed, but the calls would start up again in a few weeks. I even called in once and asked them to update my phone number in their database, and gave them a fake number with which to replace my existing number. No dice – the calls still didn’t stop.
  • My mother has always made it a point to donate to both the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association. She recently told me that she now gets at least 2 or 3 calls per day asking her to donate to related causes. Are they selling her phone number? Maybe. Probably. Sadly, she told me, “Never again. Never again will I donate to any of those organizations.”

    Sad, isn’t it?

No end in sight

It’s only going to get worse. With technology making personal data collection cheaper and easier, you will increasingly see everything you buy, every cause you care about, every place you go, tracked. Your actions will be compiled into many lists, divvied up and sold to the highest bidder – companies promising higher yields, greater conversions, etc.

So what’s a good-hearted, privacy loving, charitable soul to do? Seems that if I don’t want to enter into a life-long relationship with a cause or charity, my only option is to shove money into a bell-ringer’s can at Christmas time. At least then there’s no paper trail.

I’m reminded of a great Mitch Hedberg bit:

“I bought a doughnut and they gave me a receipt for the doughtnut… I don’t need a receipt for the doughnut. I give you money and you give me the doughnut, end of transaction. We don’t need to bring ink and paper into this. I can’t imagine a scenario that I would have to prove that I bought a doughnut. To some skeptical friend, ‘Don’t even act like I didn’t get that doughnut, I’ve got the documentation right here… It’s in my file at home. …Under “D”.’”

Charities should take a lesson from Mitch. Namely, “I’ll give you money. You take that money. End of transaction. I’m not looking for a life-long relationship here.”