It comes in droves six days a week. A flurry of flyers, a few bills and invariably, three or four sealed envelopes soliciting donations for everything from political causes to charities, religious groups and public television. Stuff we call junk mail.
Some appeals brazenly enclose bait, trapped in glassine windows: a nickel, a dime… anything to get you to open the envelope. You won’t throw money away, but you feel cheesy taking it without, you know, paying them back.
The charity knows this. That’s why they put us in moral limbo with those coins teasing us through the envelope. You can’t just throw away that coin, can you? But if you just take it and keep it, isn’t, isn’t that stealing from the group? On the other hand, how is it that nonprofits can afford to mail all those coins?
Answer: the same way they pay for all that printing and postage.
Everyone this side of fifty—and that’s the bulk of newspaper readers these days—know that once you make a donation, you’re on the list, to be passed along, bought and sold to “similar” groups who want to get in on the action.
Call it a hazard of getting older. If it’s not invitations from AARP and a hearing aid company, you’re bombarded with fundraisers who ring your phone off the hook, spam your email and fill your mailbox with enough paper to pave I-40 plus the on-ramps. Receiving these solicitations means they think you’re their kind of Joe or Jane. In their world, any old Joe or Jane will do.
My husband and I have taken to turning our phone ringer to 0 and silencing the answering machine off. We’ve learned time and time again that answering the between, say, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. is inviting a fast-talking sales person asking “Is this the lady of the house?” or “Ah! How nice to hear a friendly voice.” Never mind the hum of friendly voices in the background at the phone bank.
You know when a boiler room is calling—the line is silent for a few seconds until the computer rolls the call to the next telemarketer. Here lately, robocallers have beat the system by faking a local number on Caller ID.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against charitable giving, but I don’t give over the phone unless I’m darned well sure who it is on the other end of the line. I don’t mind giving to good causes, but once I write a check it’s disillusioning to receive mailing after mailing from the same group.
Don’t tell me to register with the “Do Not Call List” or to try opt-out lists. Done that, and we’ve still received enough spam to start a delicatessen.
What truly puzzles me are the printed sheets of peel-off mailing labels and notepads—hundreds at a time when so few of us pay bills through the mail or write letters. They come by the bushels like clockwork long about 12:30 p.m. every weekday and Saturday: sheets of labels from the American Red Cross or St. Jude’s or the March of Dimes. It’s a rare week, indeed, when the postal carrier doesn’t deliver more stickers, in a time when the need for return address labels is going the way of the fountain pen. Though we can’t possibly use any more of these labels in our catch-all drawer beside the answering machine—the one for the phone that we won’t answer anymore– is brimming with peel-off labels and free note pads and shopping lists. Here lately, they’ve found their way to the recycling bin, which is such a waste.
What would impress me would be a handwritten letter from a real person asking me to give to a local cause that I believe in. And no, I don’t mean one of those script-font laser-printed letters sent bulk mail. I mean a genuine, stamped envelope for starters, and a letter in more-or-less legible handwriting. OK, block letters since cursive has fallen out of fashion. Lined notepaper would be good, with little flecks of paper along the edge as if torn from a spiral notebook–an appeal letter so heartfelt and humble that I couldn’t help but whip out the checkbook.