Aug. 11, 2022

Donations - Be Kind & Be Alert

Donations - Be Kind & Be Alert

My podcast this week was the result of a trip to the mailbox. I had a few nice cards from family, a couple of bills, and a nice big 9” x 14” envelope. Written on the big envelope in bold red letters was “Free Gifts Enclosed”.  Inside the envelope was a Gratitude Journal, a blank note card that I can re-use, a few pamphlets to describe the program and a postage paid envelope to send my donation.  Will I send a donation because I received this in the mail? Not likely.

I receive donation requests on a regular basis. I get it. Many organizations are desperately trying to help innocent people, and these groups are simply trying to catch your attention. I understand that in order to help people, funding is needed to have the right team in place. Depending on the type and size of organization, some run solely on volunteers, others require staff to keep things running.  Some organization serve a global need and simply could not operate on volunteers alone.

Over this past year I have noticed an increase in the “free gifts” that come from organizations. I have received blank Christmas cards, address labels, socks, gloves, pens, calendars, journals and reusable shopping bags. As much as I appreciate the efforts, I personally find it distasteful to keep getting constant mail with the free gifts in exchange for a donation. I supposed the large organizations using this practice must be able to monitor their campaigns and determine if the cost to solicit donations is worth it. 

When is enough actually enough?  Should organizations ask for your permission to send the “free gifts” in the mail?  Will you send the items back as “Return to Sender” if you aren’t going to use them?  If you do, what happens to them?  Are they re-used or do they end up in the landfill?

I know how important charitable organizations are. Things can change in an instant, and any one of us can be in a situation where we need to rely on help from others.

I do have a few good stories! A few years back I had the opportunity to spend time at BC Children’s Hospital. A close family member underwent a very lengthy life-altering operation, and it was incredible to see the resources and people in place. When I was walking the halls in that hospital, I noticed many plaques and signs that told of generous donors who had made the health care possible. From large corporations to grateful families, many people had stepped up to the plate to help fund a vital health care service. That hospital is incredible, and we would not have that service without the help from wonderful donors. I mention this hospital only because I remember reading all the tributes to donors on the walls, and thought to myself how grateful I was for the donors who made it possible. I recall taking a photo of one of the donor walls, and it was a family that had immigrated to Canada several years ago and received care for their child.  When this family was able to do so, they gave back to the hospital, which in turn provided care opportunities for many others to follow. Those are great donation stories and I will be forever grateful. 

When my kids were growing up, they were involved in many activities.  In order for the activities to be kept affordable for parents, fundraising was often part of the equation.  We have sold cookies, chocolate covered almonds, magazine subscriptions, coffee, raffle tickets, Christmas poinsettias and coupon books.  Yes, I say the words “we sold” because typically most parents are accompanying younger kids as they go door to door in the neighborhood. It can be challenging when you have more than one child, or more than one club or organization. There comes a point where you simply can’t keep asking your neighbors and friends. It’s tough. Neighbors might run when they see you in the driveway or feel like you are taking advantage of them. Perhaps not in all cases, but the potential is there. Honestly, I found there were times when I didn’t have the heart to bug the same people again, so I would take the box of almonds and put it with an honor payment envelope on the coffee room table at work. If there were extras leftover, I often bought them myself to simply avoid another round of door to door soliciting.  For the most part it worked, but sometimes the envelope would be short a few bucks and you were left wondering how that happened.

Years ago I helped organize a raffle. Raffles can be a ton of work, with varying rules depending on your jurisdiction. It was a great fundraiser, but it did have challenges along the way. I share this experience in this week's podcast. 

I would love to talk about sponsorship requests, but that is honestly a whole other episode.  Quite simply, if you want a business to sponsor your non-profit group, presentation and acknowledgement go a long way.  Draft a letter of request, drop it off in person and let the business know how you plan to recognize them at the event.  Is it with their logo on a sign, on newspaper ads, will they be tagged on a radio ad?  Unless you have a personal connection with someone at a business, telephone calls to request donations are not a great approach.

Fundraising, donations, and sponsorships all play an important role in our community. What works for some may not work for others.  Help where you can, but don’t feel pressured into supporting an organization because you got a free t-shirt in the mail. That free t-shirt is simply not free. 

In this week's podcast I also talk about the need to use caution when joining online community sites. I share the story of a lady who soon realized the person she was helping was trying to take advantage of her.

If you receive unwanted mail from organizations, a written note to request they take you off the list is a good idea. If that doesn’t work, simply keep putting “return to sender” every time unwanted mail comes in. Eventually they should stop sending it.  If you are getting too many emails, Unsubscribe and Block.  When the phone rings remember you pay the bill, and the phone is for your convenience. You don’t have to respond to constant phone solicitations.

Despite all this, at the end of the day, be kind. Yes, be kind but be aware. Kind means doing what you can, but not putting yourself at financial or physical risk. If you see an organization that is truly helping people, a little extra from time to time really can go a long way.

So how do you feel about all those unsolicited gifts in the mail?  Does it make you want to donate more, or do you find yourself more annoyed and wondering where your donation funds are going? If you have any comments or stories to share regarding this topic, please reach out to me  at

On a final note, I would like to stress that helping others is such a good thing. Please don’t let poor practices of any groups turn you away from helping other people. We are all in this world together and it’s so important that we help each other along the way. No judgements. 

For the full audio version of my podcast on this topic, please visit: