(This article previously appeared on Thepoconos.com site.)
OK, show of hands: Who is sending out Christmas cards this year? Every Christmas I rethink my list, weighing the pros and cons of the traditional paper cards (environmentally questionable, no doubt) vs. the email variety (a touch impersonal, perhaps?).
In the end, I will probably opt for the USPS, as I always do. I certainly have enough cards, thanks to the freebies I keep getting from charitable, humane and environmental-action organizations.
I receive these and other types of premiums almost daily from agencies I support and those I’ve never heard of. I’ve never been to Colonial Williamsburg, much less given them a donation. Yet, they have been sending me note cards for years — rather nice ones, too. You might get one from me this Christmas.
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Greeting cards and the ubiquitous address labels (invariably, with the street name wrong by a letter) aren’t the only goodies I get. All my many umbrellas come from charitable organizations; likewise my many tote bags. I receive bookmarks, pens, baseball caps, T-shirts, toy animals (from groups like Defenders of Wildlife), backpacks (Sierra Club), rain slickers and key chains up the wazoo.
I get Buddhist prayer flags from the Free Tibet people and religious medallions from the Catholic organizations. Some groups send actual cash — a dime or a nickel glued to the appeal letter. Others include a postage stamp, presumably for use when you mail back your check. Meanwhile, I need never buy another calendar or notepad as long as I live, since so many come to me unsolicited.
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The Gifts of Giving
Some organizations have a tick box on the return card where you can decline the promised premium. But many others send the premium first, and only later issue their appeal. All of these goodies beg the question of whether the money spent on gifting potential donors couldn’t be better put to use in the charity’s actual work.
But there are marketing gurus who specialize in these things, presumably armed with statistics showing that a set of Christmas gift bags with matching tissue paper will draw more donations than a naked letter with no freebie at all.
Moreover, the organization may have already paid for my $7 coffee mug as part of its promotional budget. Maybe I’m doing them a favor by taking the mug off their hands and relieving them of the cost of keeping it in inventory. Who knows?
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A couple of years ago when money was tight, I took a look at our charitable donations and made some hard choices. We still give to certain organizations that I’ve supported for years and that score well on sites like Charity Navigator in terms of transparency, administrative costs and CEO salary. Otherwise, we concentrate our giving locally to organizations we know and trust. No premiums necessary.
It's my pleasure to be charitable — it reminds me that I'm doing well enough to be able to share and to support causes that are important to me. But if my charity is rewarded with a gift, does it qualify as charity at all?