On a typical workday, I was helping a lovely individual organize their home. When it was time to deal with paperwork, I happily sat down to pre-sort bags of unopened mail.
In short order, it became apparent that this individual was quite generous. Most of the bags’ contents consisted of solicitation letters from non-profits. The number of organizations was staggering. As I sorted, I was bombarded with the standard tactics designed to pull at the heartstrings and purses of donors: a penny here, a dime there, a letter from a child, a metal medallion, a notepad, stickers, and a slew of return address labels. I sorted by name so that the unfortunate owner of this unsolicited mountain of mail had a fighting chance of reclaiming space.
As I steadily progressed through the piles, one envelope gave me pause. Behind the cellophane window was a tiny crutch constructed with toothpicks. It was a sad little crutch whose sole purpose was to create such an avalanche of sadness upon any hapless recipient that they would have no choice but to immediately whip out their checkbook and make a donation to this non-profit that aided disabled children overseas.
At that moment, I noticed a curious sensation arise. Certainly, it was not the sensation that the non-profit intended. This individual’s generosity was seemingly rewarded with growing mountains of requests, undoubtedly usurping minutes of their day, crowding their mailbox, and overtaking their space. I could not help but feel frustrated on their behalf. It seemed as if they were being punished for their generosity. Not only were they selflessly donating hard-earned money, but now they had to spend additional money figuring out how to deal with the resulting flood of paper. “How could anyone possibly keep up with all these letters?” I wondered to myself.
On the one hand, I understood the organizations’ objectives. I once worked for a wonderful non-profit and knew donations were integral to their much-needed services. So on an individual basis, I could understand why each organization sent requests.
On the other hand, it was frustrating to witness the aggregate of non-profits wasting so much of this individual’s time, energy, and ability to keep up with more critical mail. Additionally, the sheer waste of resources was over the top, especially from the organizations that sent the most egregious volume of letters.
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. Incoming mail and resulting paperwork are common challenges for my clients. While I thankfully have yet to run across that sad little crutch again, I have spent more than my fair share of time helping clients get out of the non-profit deluge.
During these sorting sessions, I have noticed a time and energy-sapping pattern for this particular mail category. Those who donate to the largest number of organizations are penalized by receiving the highest volume of mail; mail that they do not have time to deal with, nor should they have to. I work with these benevolent individuals to remove their information from mailing lists so they can regain precious time and space.
I conducted some online research, and what I learned was quite eye-opening. The more organizations we donate to, the more we will be bothered with requests. That may seem obvious, but the following is not: if the donation is small enough, the non-profit might sell our information to other organizations to recoup the price of printing and mailing. The number of solicitations then increases, and we receive mail from organizations we never knew existed. Let the onslaught begin.
So what is a kind, generous soul to do? The best course of action is to decide which causes elicit the most passion. Pick a select few organizations within those causes. Since you will no longer be sending lots of smaller denominations to numerous organizations, you can donate more significant amounts to fewer organizations.
It can be a challenge. Much like purging extraneous memorabilia, purging organizations can be an emotional struggle. Nevertheless, it is a worthwhile endeavor. According to my research, the more money an organization receives, the less mail it will send you. They cannot risk annoying a generous donor with crutch-laden letters. Your donation will also help the organization much more than a small one could.
Once you have whittled down that list, you can use the pre-paid return envelopes to tell other organizations to stop sending you mail and to refrain from sharing your information. If you still want to receive a paper request from a few choice organizations once a year, you can let them know. If you wish to stop all mail, you can tell them that you will donate electronically, so there is no need for snail mail. (Ensure they do not start sending you weekly email requests instead. Otherwise, they will start wreaking havoc in your digital inbox.)
Many feel bad for organizations that will no longer make the cut, but there is a different perspective that could be helpful. By stopping the requests, you will help organizations avoid wasting monetary and physical resources by sending letters that will most likely end up in the recycling bin.
Think of how relaxing donating could become if there was less mail to deal with every week. An overwhelming task could become quite enjoyable.
So if you start to feel like poor Lucy and Ethel trying to keep up with the conveyer belt at the chocolate factory, it might be time to slow that belt down. Then you will be able to enjoy working with the chocolate at a more leisurely pace!
Author: Judith Dold
Musings from yours truly about all things organizing.