If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I get a lot of inspiration from the experiences of my parents. If you read past posts, which I encourage you to do, you will find I have told a number of stories about my parents and their experiences as donors to a good number of local and national charities and other nonprofit organizations. Here comes another one.
Since I moved back to Illinois, I have helped my parents sort through the amazing amounts of mail they have received from countless nonprofit organizations. Some came from organizations they have happily contributed to because the organizations had missions and programs my parents thought had real value, but lately, most of the mail has come from groups they have never supported in the past. Often, these appeals come with address labels or other personalized premiums that either have the incorrect address, i.e. the wrong apartment number, or the last name is misspelled. If you look at my byline, you will see my last name is spelled FREEDLUND, not FREELAND, nor FRIEDLAND, nor FRIEDLANDER, nor FREELUND. (On a side note, I have never gotten a first paycheck from any employer with my name spelled correctly.)
I realize that some nonprofits sell or rent mailing lists to other organizations. It is a source of income to their organizations. I am personally against the practice, but the AFP does allow it. Most of those organizations that do sell names do not inform their donors that it is a something they do, because if they did inform them, it is likely they would not get many repeat donations.
I have gone through most of these appeals, although not all of them. Those that I have read through provide no information about getting my parents off their mailing lists. They might provide a website address which will often have an opt out opportunity, but when you are dealing with elderly donors who are not masters of computer technology, the odds of them finding that information by themselves is pretty slim. Their only real options are to call the organizations one by one and make the request, or to write each organization a letter. Either choice can be a time consuming chore, and really may not amount to anything.
The fact is, nonprofits should include the information needed to allow donors to remove their names from mailing lists. According to the AFP Code of Ethical Principals and Standards, “Members shall give donors and clients the opportunity to have their names removed from lists that are sold to, rented to or exchanged with other organizations.” I would like to see this happen more.
In my honest opinion, I think a better and more donor-centered approach to this issue would be for the organizations that do sell, rent or share donor names to inform the donors up front about this practice and provide an opt-in form, rather than an opt-out form. Let the donors decide if they want to receive mail from other organizations. They will appreciate the transparency and the choice. Forcing them to jump through the necessary hoops to get their names only creates bad feelings, and if they find out who is selling their names and addresses, it will likely cost your organization their future support.