Donors don't like charity swag but it works, says Charity Intelligence Canada

Kate Bahen, managing director of Charity Intelligence Canada, says 48 per cent of people who receive trinkets from charities in the mail give back

48 per cent of people who receive trinkets from charities in the mail give back

One of the ways people can be more cautious and efficient with their giving is to give directly, or choose between national charities and local charities like a food bank. (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty)

People hate it when charities send out trinkets in the mail asking for donations, but it works, according to Charity Intelligence Canada (CI).

Kate Bahen, the managing director for CI, said surveys have shown that the trinkets are often on people's lists of things they don't like when it comes to charity mail.

"Donors absolutely hate it," Bahen said. "It's one of their top five hates."

"People find it wasteful," she said, adding people don't need notepads or mailing stickers. 

Despite it being unpopular, it's highly effective as a fundraising ploy, she said.

It's called "give to get," and is based on reciprocity. Bahen said 48 per cent of people who open the mail give back to the charities that send them. 

"It's a very effective way of getting donations," she said.

It's only the major national charities sending out trinkets due to the very high cost of doing so, Bahen added.

Donor fatigue

When charities send mailings to people asking to give again, people will grow tired, Bahen said.

"We're really getting tapped out and I think there's a growing sense of 'when is enough enough?'" Bahen said.

She advised people to draw up a list of charities they have donated to as a way of getting past donor fatigue.

"Take a good hard look," she said. 

"Are you really giving to where your heart is?"

She noted people are usually giving way more than they thought and aren't necessarily giving to causes they are passionate about. 

"It's perfectly fine, then, to scratch some names off the list and add some new names."

Use caution

When it comes to the aspect of giving, Bahen recommends using caution and skepticism. She tells those who donate to ask about where their money is going or how it's being used.

"Charity has got to be transparent and accountable to you," she said. 

Be wary of phone callers claiming to represent veterans, police initiatives or blind and sick children, she says. These are often phone scams perpetrated by people who haven't registered for charities and use hard-sell tactics like asking for minimum donations. 

When someone asks for a minimum donation, her advice is to simply hang up the phone.

Bahen has a list of ways people can be more efficient in their givings, released on CI's website titled 3 Steps for Taking Back Control of Your Giving Against Donor Fatigue. One thing that can be done is vetting the list of charities through making sure they line up with your own values or whether or not you'd like to give nationally or locally. 

"I don't think there's a wrong way to give, just as long as you're informed about your giving."


  • An earlier version of this story referred to the practice of sending items to people in order to get donations as "give to go". In fact, it's known as "give to get".
    Oct 05, 2016 8:50 AM CT

With files from CBC Radio's Blue Sky