According to The Daily Mail, the Children’s Society, a charity in the United Kingdom, recently sent out 20,000 letters asking for £100,000 each, in order to fund aid workers through Britain and Wales. This is a lot of money for anyone to donate, equal to about $152,615 US. The real problem is that many people who received these letters–at least, the 170 people who complained–don’t have anywhere near that kind of money. Many were pensioners who make around £122 a week to live on.
The Children’s Society replied that, of course, they were very sorry about the issue and that these people weren’t supposed to be targeted in that campaign. They claimed that, like many charities, they rely on third-party data gathering efforts to provide them with information about potential donors. While they usually rely on that data unquestioningly, this time it was obviously in error.
That charities this large rely on third-party data comes as no surprise, but it does raise at least one problem with the whole system: if you rely on third-party data, you have to verify that data to some extent. Verifying everything that third-party research tells you would take almost as much time as doing the research in the first place, which is likely why it doesn’t get done.
But people are understandably upset about this letter campaign. Unsolicited mail is never really welcome, and it’s not an efficient way to locate donors or drum up donations. But there were certainly people in that mass mailing campaign who, if approached in a more reasonable way, might have been willing to help the Children’s Society. Likely they won’t now, seeing them as greedy, grasping, and, if they’ve followed the story, incompetent.
Running a charity requires a certain balance between the needs of those you’re helping and the situation of those you’re asking for help. Showing that you don’t respect the latter makes it harder to help the former.