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Dear Defenders of Wildlife. Dear Environmental Defense Fund. Dear League of Conservation Voters. Dear Union of Concerned Scientists. Dear Earthjustice. Dear National Wildlife Federation. Dear Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever. Dear Sierra Club. Dear ACLU. Dear Access Yes. Dear Southern Poverty Law Center. Dear independent, nonprofit organizations everywhere.

Stop. Sending. Me. Stuff. I don’t need it. Really, I don’t. It isn’t terribly labor-intensive to write my return address on an envelope when I send a bill to the hospital. I do not send out much mail anymore, so I have a five-year backlog of those address labels you send along with every donation request. I already have a backpack that’s better-suited to my needs than whatever you might send me. You have sent me several canvas bags already, and it seems like a major waste of fuel to send another bag when I can easily buy one where I live. The membership cards you send me every year are worse than useless since they mean nothing to anyone but me, I can’t use them anywhere I go and you just wasted a bunch of paper sending them out, no doubt in hopes that each of us would be so thrilled to be recognized as a member we would feel compelled to send you more money. Depending on the organization, I get these reminders for donations every one to three months (and since I donate to more than one organization, I get many reminders). Every single envelope contains a sheet of mailing labels, and often an insert that says if I donate a certain amount of money, I’ll be able to adopt a wolf, or I’ll get to choose between a flimsy bag or an even-flimsier backpack. You may even send me a pin. Anything, wanted or not, to let me know how grateful you are.

To a point, I understand. After all, NPR and PBS use the lure of “stuff” every time they go through a fundraising cycle. “Send us this much and you’ll get a mug with the National Public Radio logo, send us this much and we’ll send you a sweatshirt, send us this much and we’ll put your name in a drawing for opera tickets.” Someone, somewhere, has done the calculations and concluded that the organization is more likely to get a donation when that donation comes with the promise of “free” stuff. But here’s the thing — when people donate to NPR or PBS, they get the stuff on a case-by-case basis, and it’s more likely to be stuff they’ll use, like the aforementioned coffee mug. And since the donor talked to someone on the phone, she can easily opt out of another sweatshirt. The point of the exercise is to support a station she thinks is important. I don’t get to opt out of getting the complimentary address labels; they just come in each envelope as a matter of course.

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I started donating because I believe in the work these organizations do. I did not donate to get a personal welcome from Fred Krupp (and how personal is it when you know the letter was written by somebody else and the signature was most likely engraved on a stamp?), or a personal gift from Jaime Rappaport Clark (who I am quite sure has no idea who I am). I find myself much less interested in donating when I know that even a few cents of my donation go to generating these unwanted gifts for who knows how many people. I prefer to contribute to the scientists, the lawyers, the administrators and the support staff who work to make sure I know about what is going on and what is being done to make it better. I donate to these conservation organizations to assist with conservation, and sending out a generic, unasked for, unwanted, gift that contributes to clutter conserves nothing.

So stop sending me meaningless stuff. Take my contribution and put it toward the work of the atmospheric scientist who needs new computer equipment, or the soil scientists who needs a few more bucks to get PVC pipe to take soil cores, or the secretary who spends all day fielding calls. I am not here to promote. I am here to help. And I don’t need any more address labels.

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