Sunday, December 4, 2016

Still Life with Robin: 'Tis the Season

'Tis a Gift
by Peggy Robin

‘Tis the season of giving, and many charities, it seems, want to give….to me. But I don’t really want the little gifts they’re sending. Nevertheless, here’s my haul:

Packet of notecards with artwork on the front
Christmas tree ornament
A dream-catcher (Navajo charm)
A nickel taped to a card
Personalized return address labels (in various styles from many different organizations)
Desk calendar
Wall calendar
Sticky notes
Shopping list notepad
To-do list notepad
Blank notepad
Bumper stickers
Window stickers

None of the above items is terribly expensive – still, it has to be more expensive to send a letter with a little gift inside than one without. I’m sure that the marketing consultants at these charities have studied the matter in depth, and have found that including some little trinket in a mailing to potential donors is an effective way to prod more recipients to give -- more than making up for the added cost of the object plus postage. Otherwise, this would not be such a commonplace technique. I can see how it works: you get something sort of nice – like a packet of artsy notecards – and if you think you might actually use them, you feel a tad guilty for getting something for nothing – so you give a little something back to the worthy cause that sent them, rather than a similarly worthy one that just sent you a pitch letter and nothing more.

There are two things about this that bother me. One, maybe the organization that didn’t send you a gift is doing more good with its donations than the one that’s handing out notecards. And two, I don’t really need those notecards. And if I do, I can go out and buy my own from a gift shop. I definitely don’t need more bookmarks. And I have enough return address labels to stick on all the mail I’m likely to send for the rest of my life. I can’t even give those things away, because they’re of no use to anyone else.

On the other hand, who am I to tell a charity to stop using a successful technique that spurs more giving? Just because it doesn’t work for me, doesn’t mean it isn’t right for lots of other people. What I really would like to see is a “Do Not Gift” registry for charities. This would be something like the “Do Not Call” registry”: US Mail customers could add their names to a national list that would go to all charities letting them know not to send tchotchkes to anyone who put their name down. That would save the the charities some money, and save me from the annual dilemma of having to decide whether to recycle all those bookmarks, notepads, and calendars, or try to give them away.

The only trouble with this bright idea? Well, if you’re on the “Do Not Call” registry, and you still get lots of unsolicited business calls, you know just how well that idea works!

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.


  1. I'm a bit of a Scrooge. When I get note cards, address labels (often with my name misspelled), book marks, etc. I write "Return to Sender" on the envelope, black out my address, and drop it in the mail box. I figure perhaps they can 're-use' the goodies, and at least I have no guilt about using note cards and not contributing. (Just a tad of guilt for the postage they have to pay).

    But the whole thing makes me angry when I think of the trees that have to come down to produce all this unnecessary paper.

    I still love your Still Lives. Keep 'em coming!

    1. I've done the "return to sender" bit with political mailings I occasionally get from right-wing organizations, with the intended purpose of making them pay the return postage -- if they give me a postage paid return envelope. I generally haven't done that with the organizations that send me tchotchkes because many of them are actually quite good (Amnesty International, Sierra Club, Whitman/Walker Clinic) -- I just wish I had some way to tell them not to waste their money!

      Thanks for writing!

  2. We donate to six “regulars” and add others as the occasion arise. With those that have sent us these “things”, I include a note saying thank you, but not to keep spending the money sending labels—or whatever it is-- to us. So far it’s made no difference ! So much “stuff”…

  3. A truly great idea. Even if it won't eliminate the multitudes of cards, address labels, etc. etc., it would at least cut down on the daily "gifts" pouring in. I personally feel that I didn't ask for these items and will not "pay" for them; better to give to other groups which don't waste their funds in that way.