Wanderings – Why fundraising with socks is a bad idea

I received a pair of socks in the mail last week, which prompted my blood pressure to increase again. Receiving socks by mail is not something I normally do, as I prefer to shop in-store for clothing, and I know I did not order any recently.

The socks were part of a package that included a pen, greeting cards, and a solicitation letter from the Heart and Stroke Foundation. A few years ago I donated money online as part of one of my kid’s “Jump Rope for Heart” events and since that time, I haven’t been able to remove myself from their mailing list.

Last year, I donated to the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation for the hospital’s psychosocial clinic as part of a friend’s fundraiser walk. Why? Because as my friend said, “Cancer fries your brain.” Once again, I’m on the list and receive frequent fundraising asks by mail and telephone.

Because I am me, I tallied up the approximate cost of the fundraising printed materials, the free pens, the socks, and greeting cards that have been sent since my donation to the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The value of all that junk is higher than what my donation at the time was. Add in the cost of staff to call my phone and attempt to solicit more donations, and that charity needs more money from me to keep going just to solicit more money from me. That makes sense, right? No, and frankly it ticks me off. That and those “free” socks don’t even fit!

The value of both those donations is not big in the grand scheme of things, but those were given with good intent and in the hopes it makes a small difference. Primarily I donate my time to various causes I care about. I donate money when I cannot donate my time, or when it is something my kids or a friend is involved with.

What cheeses me off is the amount of money that is spent by these organizations to solicit more donations. When I donate to a cause, I want that donation to go to that cause. If I give the local food bank $20, I know that organization is going to buy $20 worth of food. In fact, food banks turn that $20 monetary donation into about $100 worth of food with the buying power and savvy they have. So why can’t organizations like Princess Margaret Hospital or the Heart and Stroke Foundation do something similar?

It may be a fact of apples and oranges. The two aforementioned charities fund research, which take a lot of people who don’t work for free. Meanwhile very few people are paid to work at the local food bank. Large research charities need a lot of money.

The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation raised over $91 million through fundraising, but a lot of that is from repeat corporate donors, family gifts, and endowments. According to the PMCF 2022 annual report, fundraising expenses were $22.1 million. Printed materials and multiple phone calls cost a lot.

According to the Heart and Stroke website and the foundation’s annual report, 41 per cent of the money donated to it was spent on fundraising. Over $12 million was spent in direct fundraising in 2021. That’s a lot of socks, pens, custom greeting cards, and paper materials mailed out. Seeing the number of fundraising packages that made it into the post office garbage and recycling boxes, this doesn’t seem like a very efficient method of fundraising.

I get that organizations need to raise funds. The two organizations I am personally involved with as a volunteer do this work all the time. There is never enough time spent to keep money flowing in a positive direction for the organization. That said, when I donate to another organization, I want to know that the donation will go towards the cause I am supporting. I understand that some of that donation may go to administration, but it had better be only a small part.

If nothing else, there should be an option available. If a person donates to a large charity, one can check a box and decline the gifts of socks, pens, and other flotsam. I work hard for the meager dollars I earn and when I donate to others, it should make a difference.

Column originally published in the March 8, 2023 print edition of the Morrisburg Leader.