Columnists > Voices

Junk the junk mail

And do something really significant with what's left over

Issue: "Opium wars," May 12, 2007

"I'm calling," the plaintive voice on the other end of the phone explained, "because I simply don't know what to do anymore with all the junk mail I'm getting. I love the organizations I hear from, and I know they're doing the Lord's work. But I don't even have time to read their long reports. I certainly can't give to them all."

When my new friend said he was getting "about a bushel" of such mail every week, I guessed he had to be a farmer. So I asked him about the devastating freeze that had blanketed the whole southeastern United States a few days earlier, and he said that yes, his own losses had totaled something over a quarter of a million dollars. "There won't be any crop this year," he reported ruefully.

What impressed me was that in the middle of that disaster, he still wanted to be a faithful and careful steward. And because it happened that I'd been doing some thinking about the junk mail issue, I did offer two specific items of advice.

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The first advice in dealing with direct-mail fundraising appeals is to cut out small gifts. Make it an absolute rule not to respond to such mailers with a check for as little as $10 or $25. The reason is simple: It usually costs that organization that full amount just to process your gift. No, it doesn't literally cost them quite that much to enter your name and send you a receipt. But common sense says that if you send them $10, you become what is known as an "active donor." So over the next two to five years, you can count on that organization's sending you several dozen more appeals-maybe even every single month-costing the organization a minimum of 50 cents each. Do the multiplication.

My own rule of thumb is: If I can't send $100, I don't send anything at all. Better for me; better even for the organizations I don't send to.

I know those organizations may not particularly appreciate my saying that. I hope they like my second bit of advice better.

Reduce your list of giving "targets" to no more than half a dozen organizations-including, of course, your local church-and give with robust and efficient generosity to those organizations. I even have a fairly simple formula for you to experiment with.

I am old-fashioned enough to suggest that you start by designating 10 percent of your income for your local church. I'm not saying that's required by the Bible or that special blessing waits for those who are 10 percenters. I do know from experience, though, that churches with those kinds of donors can exercise all sorts of ministry options without ever having to harangue people about their giving. Besides, 10 percent is easier to calculate mentally than 8 percent or 4.5 percent!

Assuming such a base, go on then to pick two, three, or even five other organizations you also want to give to-and right away designate 1 percent of your income for each of them. One percent, incidentally, is also very easy to calculate. And it will give you great delight to send a check that big to an organization you really care about.

To all the others in that bushel basket every week, start sending a simple form letter. Tell them lovingly that you've picked a handful of organizations to support significantly; that you like what they're doing but that you can't support everybody; and that for your mutual good they should remove you from all mailing lists. You'll be saving them money and yourself some future frustration.

Two footnotes: There still is what we'd all call legitimate "miscellaneous giving." So my wife and I also set aside another 1 percent of our income so that when nephews and nieces and friends from church need a little support to go on a short-term missionary trip to the Ukraine, we can jump in with $30 or $40. That's fun too. But I think you'll agree that's different from the junk mail issue bothering our Georgia farmer friend.

Second, while you're thinking about organizations to include in your short list of 1 percent donor targets, you might want to keep in mind a variety of important tasks being addressed by WORLD magazine's nonprofit parent organization, God's World Publications. These include journalism education and providing subscriptions for targeted groups we'd like to see influenced by our biblical worldview approach to the news. I'd be glad to send you a brief summary of specifics.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.


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