Wednesday, October 05, 2005

No more nickels, please...

This is a letter I wrote after receiving a fundraising mailer from the American Kidney Fund that contained an actual nickel. It bothered me, so I wrote this to explain to them why. Maybe I'm turning into an old crank, but now I get to take you along with me!

Subject: No More Nickels, Please.

American Kidney Fund
ATTN: Director of Fundraising
6110 Executive Blvd., Suite 1010
Rockville, MD 20852

To whom it may concern:

I have just received your latest fundraising mailing, complete with enclosed nickel. I thank you for this, as it has given me quite the moral puzzle to work through. I rarely have the chance to sit down and look into my core values the way you have given me the opportunity to do, and I am grateful.

Let's set a table for the discussion by beginning here. I have no qualms about sharing some of the largesse that providence has granted me with those less fortunate than myself. I feel a responsibility to the common good, and I express that in donations of my money and time to those in need of these things. For example, I recently donated $200 to "Doctors Without Borders" for relief of those affected by the terrible tsunami of last year. That donation was not solicited, it came sui generis from my desire to help those in need.

I am less willing to send my money or offer my time to those who attempt to manipulate me to do so, and I look at such efforts as unworthy of the greater good they aspire to bring about. Telephone solicitation, for example, I refuse to reward with a donation, no matter how worthy the cause, because I believe that your right to solicit me does not override my right to be free of such nuisances in the privacy of my own home, and to seek information about opportunities to help others on my terms, not yours. I believe you do not have the right to use a utility that I maintain, my telephone, to disturb me for purposes that you and you alone deem of such urgency.

Similarly, some collecting for otherwise good causes attempt to create in their targets a sense of obligation by giving them an unsolicited gift of small value. In my case, that frequently occurs as a mailed request for a donation accompanied by sheets of preprinted adhesive return address labels. Thus arrives a dilemma: Do I allow a charity, ostensibly working to provide a greater good for those in more need than myself, to provide me with a good of some cost without reimbursing them for that cost? I have decided that the answer to that question is yes.

I cannot give money to everyone, because my resources are limited.

I cannot give money to everyone who asks, because my resources are limited, and because I must have some meaningful criteria for deciding where to place my resources that has to do with the actual need rather than whether those with a stake in that need have the ability to contact me.

I cannot give money to everyone who sends me an unsolicited gift, because I must have some meaningful criteria for deciding where to place my limited resources that has to do with the actual need rather than whether those with a stake in that need can give me something in return. Otherwise, charity devolves to an auction.

So I may choose not to give money to someone who has sent me labels. But what next? Should I simply throw the labels away? They have value to me. They are useful, and by not having to purchase labels, my resources are freed, possibly for me to do some good elsewhere. They have no value to anyone else; my name and address are unique, and sending them back to whence they came does not allow the charity to use them to solicit someone else or help the cause they espouse. So my solution is to use the labels, after first removing the part of the label that contains the logo of the charitable organization. I have no right to pretend to a good I have not performed by using the labels with the logo - if someone receives a letter from me, I have no right to create in them the false impression that I have donated to a charity by using the name of that charity. So I cut off the logo and use just the plain address part. Perhaps my reasoning is circuitous but I believe it to be sound, and I am willing to live with the moral consequences.

You however, have upped the stakes. Your unsolicited gift to me is not useful only to me. It is fungible currency, although of perhaps less value to me than preprinted labels, and it probably cost you approximately the same to send me as preprinted labels, but once sent it retains a value to yourself and to those you help that preprinted labels do not. Do I have the right to spend this nickel? That nickel was given to you by someone who believed it would be used to help people with kidney problems, and I have no such difficulties. I have elected to spend my limited resources on a different problem. I also resent your attempts to create in me an obligation that was not requested, and so will not be sending you a donation, but what should I do with that nickel? Do I send it back to you? You go to pains to request it, with a sticky note attachment that probably cost more than the nickel itself to design, print and include in each mailer, but honestly, this seems foolish. At the end of this transaction, the only benefit would be to the United States Postal Service. A contribution of a nickel to your cause would create costs greater than it represents; it would cost much more in the time of your employees to handle such a small amount than any good it could create. But for me to spend that nickel allows me to benefit from the generosity of your contributors, in violation of a kind of implied social contract that that generosity should be reserved for those in need, and I am not.

I have figured out a way to make it work. That mailer and its included nickel probably cost you around two dollars to send to me by the time all is said and done, give or take. So to the next homeless person who solicits me on the street, I will give two dollars, and I will tell him or her that this money comes to him in the name of people who want to help people with kidney problems, but were somehow misguided enough to give the money to you. He will probably not understand, but you and I will know what it means.

I will also ask you to never solicit me again. Should you do so, I will be forced to send you a picture of me about to punch a kitten, with instructions that you should send me two dollars or I will complete the punch. This should create in you the same unsolicited and meaningless sense of guilt that you have attempted to create in me, and to as much effect.

Thanks for your time and attention to this matter.


Andrew Solmssen

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Amen brother I just wrote them a similar note not as lengthy and reported them to BBB who according to the BBB site, American Kidney Fund is not a recognized member. Check it out at bbb.. Another scam apparently!