Peter Leo: Fundraisers, slow down for your own good

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No question, it's tough for nonprofits to raise money, the notable exceptions being Girl Scouts selling cookies and UPMC. But I wish the hard-sell outfits among worthy charitable organizations would knock it off.

I know this happens to you generous souls out there: When you give to your favorite charities, they often come right back with a request for more money, with a thank-you optional.

Why do they think it's a good idea to hit you up for more dough 13 seconds after you've coughed up? Can't they take at least a minute to cash the check before slapping a stamp on another solicitation?

A year or so ago, my $100 contribution to the Salvation Army, then a regular on my giving list, triggered a steady stream of new requests that lasted for weeks. Maybe they thought I didn't give enough.

At any rate, I wrote back, explaining that I would no longer be donating if they kept hounding me. My point was that a good chunk of my $100 seemed to go toward mailings pounding me for more money, and not toward the Salvation Army's important work. I got no response other than more donation requests. Now I limit my contributions to the kettles.

So, to all nonprofits: Yes, most of us need a reminder to be generous, so a prompting once or twice a year is reasonable. But anything beyond that is banned, effective immediately. And never by phone, by the way.

Then there's the we're-counting-on-you-to-be-incredibly-dumb approach to fundraising.

My friend Tim is a Democrat, which can happen to anyone, particularly in Pittsburgh. He received this email from somebody named Nancy Pelosi on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee:

President Obama has emailed you.

Vice President Biden has emailed you.

And now I've emailed you.

We wouldn't all be asking if it wasn't so important. If we're going to withstand the barrage of attacks we're facing from the Koch brothers and Karl Rove, we need you to step up now. We're down to our last 24 hours before our fundraising deadline and still coming up 18,000 donations short. Can we count on you?



As it turns out, these folks, as the president would say, could not count on Tim. Which is unforgivable since very important people took time out of their busy schedules (yes, that does include Joe Biden) to contact him. You can tell the email is personal because it's signed "Nancy."

There are a couple of noteworthy things here beyond the House minority leader's punchy style.

First, why would you have Barack Obama lead off, and put Nancy Pelosi in the power position? The president is not supposed to be an opening act. Whatever happened to leading from behind?

Then there's the tone of exasperation, always a winning strategy when you're begging. ("What's it going to take to bring you numbskulls around?") The ploy backfired with Tim, who complained, "Next we'll have Harry Reid camped on our kitchen porch." Talk about a nightmare vision: a fundraising filibuster in your own backyard.

Finally, there's the phony deadline: 24 hours. Well, actually, I could be wrong here. Maybe the Democrats are being sincere. ("I'm sorry, sir, but we received your donation at 12:01 a.m., meaning you were a minute too late. We'll have to send your money back.")

Still, the message is clear: The Democrats will close up shop and the Koch brothers will achieve world domination if my friend doesn't give immediately if not sooner. Who would want that on their conscience? (I'll ignore the show of hands I see out there.)

Of course, the otherwise praiseworthy WQED is a master of the beat-the-clock-or-face-disaster approach. Many of its more popular radio and TV programs have been on the verge of extinction for decades, surviving only through miraculous buzzer-beater donations set off by a bout of hysteria from station fundraisers.

Another strategy is "flooding the zone." The models here are the Nigerian scammers. If they get one gullible person out of every 1,000 people to fork over thousands of dollars for their transparently fake email schemes, it's worth their while.

These scammers may be relying mostly on old people who are losing it. I'd hate to think that fundraisers with the nonstop mailings have figured out that we seniors may not remember that we sent a check last week.

Did I just compare some charitable organizations to con artists? I take it back. You fundraisers out there can stop my unfair attacks if you can come up with 18,000 apologies for overdoing it before this column ends.

Peter Leo of Squirrel Hill, a retired Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist and occasional Portfolio contributor, can be reached at First Published May 26, 2014 10:49 PM

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