Weather Forecast


Lynn Hummel: Biting the hand that feeds you

Voluntary, generous charity feels good, but begging, bribery, guilt and harassment don’t.

I am speaking about mail solicitations by charitable organizations we’ve never supported. The reason they’ve written to us is that we’ve been “sold out” by some organization we did support. The practice among many non-profits is that their list of contributors is sold, leased or traded to other non-profits who then solicit all the names on the list. Thanks a lot that’s like biting the hand that feeds you.

We apparently made a modest gift to some outfit that peddled our name and address.  Now we’re getting a flood of solicitations. Let me tell you about some of the techniques we’ve experienced.

But first, I should say that every outfit we’ve heard from seems legitimate and worthwhile.  They have to work hard to support their programs, so they need to push in any way that might work. Nevertheless, the sheer volume of their requests tends to dull the spirit of giving.

Bribery is the most common solicitation device. We have received free ballpoint pens, trinkets, calendars, little tablets and return address labels. We have more return address labels than we can ever use. Yes, we keep all of them (except the ones that read “Ms. Lynn Hummel”) and use some of them. But if they’re not on our limited list, no contributions (and no guilt). Other bribery items include pennies, nickels and dimes. One outfit sends an actual check for $2.50 that we could cash at the bank or send back with a contribution. We keep the coins and throw the checks away.

We get requests from schools, hospitals, orphanages and religious orders we’ve never heard of and solicitations for research to eradicate diseases we didn’t know existed and pleas from both political parties (letters signed by the big guns, though we haven’t heard from Chris Christy yet).

Though most contributors send a check only once a year, some outfits send pleas three or four times annually. That not only creates confusion, but irritation keeps rearing its ugly head. One we’ve never supported, sends a letter that has a “second notice” on the envelope and letter like it’s a message from a collection agency. What audacity.

At least two ask contributions to the Detroit Lakes campaign for (name of charity) but direct you to send your check to Washington D.C. They must think we’re stupid.

An orphanage in Baltimore tells of the homeless children who show up at their door during the holidays and how the kids are welcomed in, fed and surrounded with love. The letter is written by an elderly nun who has made these rescues her life work. It’s a heartbreaking, compelling story for a deserving cause and I’m sure it’s true, but...where did they get our name? By the way, Babe Ruth started out in an orphanage in Baltimore.

There are ways to prevent this, but they involve sending notices, making calls, keeping track and organizing a campaign to get off the list. Who wants to go to all that bother? Besides, these outfits give me something to write about.

This article is not intended in any way to discourage the generous support of worthwhile charitable work. It’s needed, it’s important and only a scrooge refuses to lend a helping hand from time to time. What we have to do, without becoming cynical and while keeping the spirit of giving, is to identify the outfits closest to our hearts, give as much as we can, and, while keeping the coins, calendars, tablets and address labels, just send a prayer for the rest.