Friday, October 3, 2008

A Good Deed Gone Bad

In a rare moment of financial stability, I made a $20 donation to an environmental non-profit organization last summer. Before I became a contributing member of this group, I distinctly remember reading the fine print on the donation slip about how they would NEVER sell my name to third parties, etc. I even got a free tote bag for my generosity. So I was saving the planet and saving plastic bags from the landfills-- what could be wrong with that?

Plenty, apparently, because the group I joined didn't sell my information-- they gave it away.

Shortly after my free gift arrived, I began receiving unsolicited mail from other environmental organizations. Wouldn't I join their efforts as well, to save the polar bears, to curb deforestation, to keep our wild places wild? I could become a member for just $25, just $16, just $9 a year, and would receive a free ruck sack, plush toy, or umbrella in return for my donation.

Before I know it, this deluge of charitable donation requests has expanded to include animal rights groups, scientific research labs, and even childrens' charities. Then I start receiving duplicate mailings from persistent organizations that had asked for (but did not receive) my help in the past. Next, the group I joined starts reminding me that they've been able to count on me for $20 in the past-- won't I give an additional $30 now to stop drilling in the artic before it's too late?

Some groups are so confident that I will contribute to their worthy cause that they send the free gifts up front-- I am the proud owner of three monogrammed pads of paper, five window decals, a handful of cards, three calendars, and more mailing labels than I can hope to use in a lifetime. I also get pre-printed petitions, addressed to my senators and congressmen, expressing my presumed outrage over some bill that has not been passed, or some policy that has not been enforced. All I have to do is sign at the bottom, print my credit card number on the back, and send it in.

Past presidents, prolific authors, and famous actors are writing to me almost daily about the plight of one underrepresented group or another, each plea more heartbreaking than the last. Wouldn't I like to save the blue-footed booby from extinction, give children with cleft lips a chance at a normal life, or feed and vaccinate scores of homeless animals? Of course I would, but I'm not willing to put myself in the poor house to do so.

Now, instead of feeling good about supporting a worthy cause, I feel like crap, because I can't afford to donate to every organization I feel passionately about. And because of my financial ineptitude, I will not be able to right all the wrongs in this world. One of my favorite sayings is " give freely of your time, your effort, and your means." I don't have any means, but I feel that I more than make up for it in the other areas, and c'mon-- two out of three's not bad, right?

Most annoying of all is the amount of paper wasted by these futile mailings. The gut-wrenching letters are sometimes three or four pages long, then there's a postage-paid envelope, a donation slip, glossy pictures of the free gifts I could receive, and more.

Some of the letters proudly state that they were printed on recycled paper using soy-based inks-- but since I never wanted these mailings in the first place, who cares!?! It's still junk mail that clogs up the postal system, that I have to take the time to shred and/or recycle, and it's cluttering up my life. I had signed up for all sorts of opt-out services a few years back, services that I will now have to find and sign up for all over again.

In the meantime, however, my course of action is to NOT renew my membership with this group, thus letting the polar bears drown and the grey wolves be hunted to extinction-- and hope they eventually forget my name and lose my number-- at least until I can afford to make a donation to another group-- one that won't exploit my good intentions.

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