Wednesday, March 30

Charities' guilt gifts overstep the bounds

My fiancée received an interesting gift in the mail recently from a charity called Plan Canada. They were asking for money to lift poor girls from around the world out of poverty.


The gift was "a small friendship bracelet of hope," accompanied by a picture of a cute young girl. The back of the photo reads, "This is Lina from Peru. She has already found a sponsor. Please sponsor a child like her. Many thanks."

I try to donate to charity when I can, but I like to do so on my own terms. I have no problem with the occasional letter asking for money. But when I get a calendar, notepad or bracelet from a charity I've never donated to before, it's a bully tactic. They hope I'll feel so guilty about taking something from a poor charity that I'll have to send them something back in return. I find the tactic offensive, and I'm apparently not alone in my feelings; the U.K.'s Fundraising Standards Board outlawed this practice among its membership three years ago.

Skimming through the charity's materials, my fiancée and I both thought little Lina made the bracelet. I had images in my mind of a poor, small girl spending countless hours weaving together hundreds of bracelets, her fingers tender and sore. In a pamphlet that came with the gift, Plan Canada notes they want to give girls an education because "[u]neducated girls are more likely to be forced into child labour, early marriage or worse." How ironic and perverse, I thought, that a charity that attempts to combat child labour would put little Lina to work making bracelets. What's next — PETA recruiting donors with unsolicited gifts of beef jerky?

Thankfully, when I looked at Plan Canada's materials more closely to write this blog post, I realized they did not explicitly say that Lina made the bracelet. I'm hoping this means it was made by a well-to-do volunteer under humane conditions in a suburb of Toronto. Either way, the charity does everything it can to make one think that Lina made the bracelet, without actually saying so. The bracelet and Lina's photo come together, so there's an immediate association. And the materials include phrases such as "Accept this small friendship bracelet of hope on behalf of girls like Lina."

Plan Canada may be a great charity. They spent $89 million on charitable programs last year (although they also spent $26 million on management, administration and fundraising — 23% of their expenses). Regardless, they won't be getting any money from me or my financée because they included a gift with their letter.

Interestingly, Plan Canada's materials noted it abides by the Imagine Canada Ethical Code. Apparently, the code "sets standards for charities in the areas of fundraising and financial reporting practices." Unfortunately, unlike their U.K. counterparts, Imagine Canada's code is silent on the practice of guilting potential donors using unsolicited gifts. Maybe they should change that.