Odds 'n' Ends
A Charity Phone Solicitation
by Steve Wood
October 5, 2011

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I feel a little bad. I finally answered a call last week from a World Vision solicitor, and I wasn't polite with him. But something good did come out of it.

From our caller ID records, it appeared that they'd been calling three or four times a day for some time. I finally googled the phone number, as the caller name was listed as "unavailable," and found who was calling so often. We normally don't pick up the phone unless we recognize who is calling us, but they've also drug me in from the basement, garden, or porch countless times with their unwanted calls.

The gentleman who called was insistent that he had important information about the child we are sponsoring via our World Vision contributions. Only when I insisted for the third time that he place us on their "no call" list, reinforced the last time with the threat of canceling our contribution, did he relent and stop trying to make his pitch.

World Vision generally gets good ratings from places like Charity Navigator, although they didn't pass GiveWell's evaluation test. Their administrative and fundraising expenses aren't excessive when compared to other charities. And I think they probably do good work. But...why must they insist on constantly calling, always trying to encourage us to give more, or more frequently?

The experience upset me enough to write this short column about it. The constant calling should be reason enough to tell the folks at World Vision to take a hike. Since my wife takes care of the contributions to them, I just say my piece to her about their incessant calling and let it go at that.

Melons for the MissionCharities, including World Vision, inundate givers with constant mailings, asking for future contributions. When I dropped off a load of melons to the local mission over the weekend, I really wanted to tell someone there to stop sending the exact same weekly mailings to both my wife and I. They do wonderful work, but the dual, identical mailings are a waste of their resources. Their weekly mailings simply add to the stack of daily requests for contributions from other charities, some reputable and some not.

I'm sure some bean counter somewhere has researched the balance between annoying (and losing) contributors and getting more donations and concluded that harassing people on the phone and frequent paper mailings are valid ways to solicit funds. And yes, the Habitat for Humanity return address labels I'm currently using on outgoing letters will at some point probably remind me to give to them again. But there is a limit. And Habitat doesn't annoy me with phone calls.

One charity through which I sponsored a child went over the top with their frequent, lush, full color mailings, dunning me to make more than my monthly contribution to them. After a year of seeing a good part of my contributions wasted on the mailings' creation, paper, printing, and postage, I cut them off. I felt bad about it at the time, but have since found that their administrative and fundraising expenses were considerably higher than some other reputable charities. And, I was easily able to find another good charity to support. There's no end to genuine need in the world.

I also found an old (2007) web page about that charity and physical gifts that apparently never reached the sponsored child. It reminded me of the soccer ball and other gifts my wife sent our sponsored child through World Vision. It appears that stuff sent to sponsored children often doesn't reach them. I should add that while my brother was living in Kenya, he advised that we never mail him anything of value. It would either disappear, or he'd have to pay a bribe to get it! So the fault may not lay wholly with the charities.

Some charities obviously sell their mailing lists to other charities. We receive several letters each week from charities we've not previously supported. Whenever we make a contribution to a new charity, a whole new wave of requests for contributions begin to appear in our mailbox just a few weeks later. Direct mail or junk mail was the spam of the pre-electronic era. While the mailings might make one aware of a charity they've missed and might wish to support, chances are the mailings are just a waste of money contributed to support something other than a junk mail campaign.

It's pretty clear to me that fundraising, even by good charities, is big business. Some of the most highly regarded charities around seem to employ some fundraising strategies that really don't reflect the beliefs they say they represent! Robo calls, pushy telephone solicitors, over the top ads of suffering on television, and the mounds of junk mail when considered as a whole don't really reflect the mission of the charities that originate the fundraising schemes.

Being a grumpy old man with charities certainly doesn't make me feel good. For years, my primary charity was providing any number of things to the children in my classroom. As I wound down towards retirement and our kids were beginning to leave the nest, my wife and I began supplying all of my special ed students with an old, refurbished computer to take home. I often got to install the computer in the home, opening the door for future visits, so I guess the effort wasn't totally philanthropic.

Habitat for Humanity Web banners: Get Involved Having been a bit of a jerk with the World Vision guy, I began to think a bit about what I could do...short of writing more and/or bigger checks out of our constantly strapped checking account. The extra melons we dropped off over the summer were by design, as I'd purposely planted more hills of melons than our family, neighbors, and friends could use with the mission specifically in mind. Happening upon a page of graphics for Habitat for Humanity, I realized that I could devote a banner ad one day a week on my Educators' News site to various charities...even World Vision. (And yes, the calls have stopped.) I picked Wednesdays, our highest traffic day on the site, to use as our charity banner ad day.

So, if you're a blogger or a webmaster who has some control over the ads appearing on your site and wish to run banner ads for charities, let me save you some time and share my all-to-short list of links to some charities' banner ad pages. I've listed the charities below in order of their Charity Navigator rating (100 being perfect):

And if you're a blogger, webmaster, or just about anyone else who has a link for banners for charitable giving, ! I don't promise to use every one submitted, however, as I do check the charities to see how much of ones contribution actually reaches the intended mission and how much goes to fundraising and administrative costs.

I feel better now.

Updates

Just hours after I posted this column, the phone rang again with the caller ID, "Toll Free Call" and the number, "1-866-947-5856." I didn't answer, of course. But when I checked my voicemail, it was clear that World Vision was at it once again. Robocaller "Tammy" wanted to make sure we'd received our packet of information. But it turned out to be the last call from them.


I received a letter this week (1/2014) from the President of World Vision, Richard E. Stearns. We've continued to support a child through World Vision, even after almost quitting shortly after the first part of this column was published.

The letter from Mr. Stearns related that he had informed World Vision's field offices for the first time in fifteen years that he "would be reducing their funding." He noted that World Vision's "costs are rising and we are finding it harder to find new sponsors." He also noted that World Vision had reduced its U.S. staff by 10%.

Believing the stories of need in Africa he told in the letter, but still remembering the avalanche of expensive, weekly mailings we get from them, I checked World Vision's rating on Charity Navigator. I noted that their overall rating was considerably below other charities we support, possibly because of their misuse of donors' private information or their rising fundraising expenses. And after reading that Mr. Stearns had found it necessary to lay off 10% of their stateside employees, I couldn't help but notice his obscene six figure salary. It made me wonder if he had even considered taking a pay cut to help the people in Africa or to save jobs here in America.

I believe World Vision does some wonderful things in disaster relief and raising the living standards of many people. But I also am appalled at their crude fundraising efforts and misuse of donor information. While they publicly say the right things, well, almost, about opposing the extreme anti-gay laws being proposed in Africa and reportedly supported by evangelical groups, I'm not totally convinced.

As I looked over our list above of charities that make banners available to webmasters, bloggers, and even occasional columnists like me, I wondered at the top seven rated charities not being directly religiously affiliated. (Note: The ratings and rankings have changed somewhat since this section was written.) What a sad commentary on our Christianity. As Mr. Stearns continues to sell my email address and phone number without my consent, doesn't take a clear stand against laws that would murder humans because of their sexual orientation, and continues to pull down close to a half million a year while cutting the jobs of World Vision employees, I don't think we'll increase our giving. We may need to consider moving it to a charity that more reflects our view of Christianity. I know of a mission in Terre Haute, Indiana, that provides food, shelter, jobs, and the Word of God to the homeless regardless of race, creed, color, or sexual orientation.

I should add here a balancing, more positive view of Mr. Stearns and World Vision. Guy Kawasaki did an interesting interview with Richard Stearns in 2007, Ten (or so) Questions with Richard Stearns, President of World Vision.

The Light House Mission

About Odds 'n' Ends

Odds 'n' Ends is a new column series for me to house all the stuff I want to say that isn't related or appropriate to my Senior Gardening and Educators' News sites or any of my previous column series. I kicked off the series last week with a little rant about our local Walmart's apparent systematic effort to replace lower cost items with more expensive brands, Can Walmart Make Their Aisles Any Narrower? I'm still researching and developing columns about American made products and the seeming lack of progress in photographic electronic flashes over the last forty years.

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