HG: SustainAbility April 04, 2009

Enough is enough. Looking at mounds of paper from my favorite charities, I know there must be a better way for charitable organizations to stay in touch with committed donors.

We all passionately support causes, but it’s hard to justify the massive amount of calendars, mailing labels, notepads and reminders that keep coming in the mail.

Since we stopped itemizing deductions on our tax returns, we send in our contributions in early spring.

During the last quarter of the year, primetime for giving, I toss all of the mailings from organizations I support in a holding area out of sight. When it’s time to actually make contributions, I haul out the mass of paper and get busy.

Each year I am more depressed by the volume of paper I have been sent. This year I decided to do something about it with a goal of going as paperless as possible.

One of my sisters donates to well over 100 causes and several years ago her family sent a letter with their contributions complaining about the waste (see box). She said responses were mixed, but some organizations did stop sending excessive mailings.

Determined to curtail the barrage of paper, I decided to see what I could accomplish through the Internet and by placing phone calls.

Web sites for charitable organizations often have an area called “Privacy Policy.” This is a good place to start.

Some organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, actually have an “Opt Out” preference you can select to stop unwanted mailings.

Generally, organizations outline several types of procedures, through e-mail, snail mail or by telephone, to make your preferences known. It takes between four and eight weeks for any changes to go into effect.

I spoke with a very helpful woman at the national office for the American Heart Association. She talked about reduced mailings lowering costs as well as saving the environment.

Starting at the privacy policy page, I clicked on a link to “review or request removal of your information.” I ended up on the Contact Us page and found the phone number. The Heart Association is not yet set up to solicit only through e-mail, so the phone representative talked me through a procedure to receive only one mailing a year.

FINCA International, a microfinance organization, has several clearly defined methods on its Privacy Policy page to stop receiving snail mail. A simple phone call activated a change to e-mail for all communications.

Save the Children lets you pick from a range of “communication preferences.” You can get some or all of your communications through e-mail.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a breast cancer organization, gives you the choice to “opt out” of receiving paper mail when you make an online donation. You can also request to be removed from physical direct mailings at any time, and your name will be added to a section of the donor database that does not receive mailings.

A telephone call to Green America (formerly Co-op America) allowed me to customize my request for e-mail delivery of all communications except for the quarterly publication “Green American,” which I still want in hard copy. The organization is working on setting up an online process to handle these requests.

Charity Navigator is a nonprofit that conducts in-depth research into more than 5,000 charities in the United States. The group evaluates charities based primarily on organizational efficiency and capacity. To find out how your favorite charities rate, check out http://www.charitynavigator.org. This can be a real eye-opener.

The mailing overload phenomenon is not restricted to charities, it extends to other nonprofit organizations trying to recruit members.

After I turned 50, I was bombarded by mailings from AARP. I wanted to do some research before joining, so I collected the various-sized envelopes until I was ready to tackle the matter.

Every month, the association was sending a solicitation with a plastic “temporary membership card.” Not only were they wasting paper, but also sending out plastic that I couldn’t recycle. I have yet to join AARP and doubt I have any desire to be part of an organization mailing out so much waste.

I did call AARP to stop the mailings and explain my problem. My concerns were handled professionally and mailings should stop soon. Members of the association can choose options to receive information online and limit use of personal data.

Mail you can’t avoid from charities can be sorted and recycled. Both Waste Management and GJ Curbside Recycling Indefinitely Inc. accept envelopes, with and without windows, and office paper as part of their curbside and drop-off paper recycling. Be careful to take out enclosed stickers, sheets of address labels and plastic cards sent in mailings, since these cannot be recycled locally.

By taking a few minutes per organization, you should be able to whittle away at the volume of wasteful materials coming from good organizations.

There is plenty of time to take action before the year-end onslaught. Feel free to share any successful tricks, and let me know how your quest progresses.


Adele Israel is a Grand Junction writer who has been involved in sustainability efforts for some 20 years. Have a question or column idea for Adele? E-mail her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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