Just take my money and walk away

Some coinsJust before Christmas, I made a modest donation to a large UK charity in response to an online campaign. The charity does remarkable and important work, and I intended to make a one-off contribution at a critical time of year for them. Donation made, thank-you email received, a few warm fuzzies experienced, and then I got on with my life. Sadly, the charity didn’t do what it’s supposed to do: just take my money and walk away.

Yesterday afternoon I received a call from the charity—I say ‘the charity’ but it sounded like a noisy call centre—which apparently wanted to thank me for my generosity. The guy on the phone then went into an excruciatingly interactive script: did I know the charity did these things? No, I didn’t. What’s the average age of the people it helps, could I guess? No, I have no idea. I could see where this was going: the guy wanted me to set up a regular donation by direct debit.

Despite the fact that I found the call (both the manner and the fact it was made at all) totally obnoxious, I couldn’t hang up. Something in me couldn’t hang up on a charity. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a twinge of guilt about closing the door on so-called ‘charity muggers’, even though going door-to-door soliciting direct debits is intrusive and unpleasant. I can imagine a call centre sales department cynically preparing charts of hang-up rates by sector, with charities appearing to benefit from the guilt factor.

Eventually my appalling mobile coverage came in useful and the call dropped, the guy on the other end still reading his script with the demented-speech-synthesiser-like intonation of someone who has read the same text a thousand times before.

The question that any charity considering this approach should ask itself is

  • If we can increase donations, should we do it at any cost?

Clearly the answer is no. If you think that it’s worth pissing off your donors hoping that they’ll donate more, you do two bad things:

  • You damage your own charity. I doubt this particular charity will hear from me again unless I am able to make an entirely anonymous donation.
  • Worse still, you damage the entire charitable sector. I’m now going to think twice before making a snap decision to donate. Will I be badgered incessantly for more? Will I end up on some ‘sucker list’? I shouldn’t have to think like this when I’m trying to do a good thing.

If I give you money, I consider that to be an isolated act. It doesn’t make us friends; it doesn’t mean I’ll do it again; it doesn’t even mean I’m all that interested in what you do.

Just take my money and walk away.

2 Comments

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2 Responses to Just take my money and walk away

  1. This is one of my pet peeves as well. I explicitly tell recipients not to add me to any mailing list, and I provide as little information as possible (for example, I do not provide phone numbers or email addresses).

    The “increase donations at any cost” philosophy has some kind of collective action tragedy embedded in it.

    The charity in question did not damage its reputation all that much by pestering you; you have not named it in your blog post.

    • Ian Chard

      Thanks for your comment. I deliberately avoided naming the charity, as it seemed disingenuous to do so: it is one of many using this strategy, and I didn’t want to single it out.

      A friend pointed out that it’s mandatory to give your name and address if you want to use Gift Aid (for foreign readers, this is a way of UK charities directly reclaiming the income tax you’ve paid on your donation). It would be doubly unpleasant for a charity to use these details for marketing when they were given to effect an increase in the donation.

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