Charity Solicitation and Seniors

Charity Solicitation and Seniors

All of us get solicitations from charities and non-profit organizations.  Much is said about bogus charities, particularly when there is a major disaster.  But the need has never been greater and charities do great work.  It can be difficult to determine who is legitimate and who is not.  Some organizations that are legitimate use regrettable solicitation methods especially when soliciting to seniors.  How do seniors support the organizations they want without being exploited?


Charitable organizations provide much needed funding for medical research, diseases, education, literacy, religious, housing/shelter, food, environment, animals, veterans, community service, safety, security and more.  Americans are giving people.  Older Americans, in particular, grew up with philanthropic values and habits.  Some people who follow charitable giving believe that some charities and other non-profit organizations may be crossing the line when it comes to soliciting seniors.


When families track solicitations they are often surprised by how many they are receiving.  Over time annual solicitations can become quarterly, then monthly.  Seniors do not remember and do not check on how often they write checks.  At the request of one of my clients, I tracked solicitations to find that in one seven day period, they received 13 solicitations.  If they had given only $10 per solicitation that would equal $130 that week – a lot of money for those on fixed incomes.


Organizations are using emotion-based appeals to increase their gifts from seniors.  Many send “free” items such as return address labels, note pads, refrigerator magnets, calendars, flags, blankets, greeting cards, and pennies/nickels/dimes.  Seniors often feel obligated to respond to these appeals.  When charities send photos of starving children, someone in a wheel chair or a story from a child, veteran or person stricken with a disease, seniors are much more likely to donate.


Thank you letters for donations often include a request for another donation.  One of the most aggressive strategies I’ve heard was a major nationwide charitable organization sending a letter to a senior asking her to sign the enclosed document that would take $5,000 from her estate at the time of her death to set up an annuity for the charity.


Charities are in the business of raising money for their mission AND their administration.  Small donations (under $25) often don’t cover the solicitation cost.  To recoup those costs, many charities sell the donor contact information to another charity with a similar prospect profile.  Charities also exchange names with each other.  Whenever a letter has the salutation:  “Dear Friend” the solicitation is from an organization who bought the donor information.  DO NOT respond to a letter of this type, it will only generate solicitations from other organizations.


You may or may not know that many charities use professional telemarketers.  But you likely didn’t know that, on average, telemarketers keep two-thirds of the money they raise before the charity receives anything (  In 2014 an employee of Consumer Reports received two of these solicitation calls at home.  When queried the fundraiser told him that “not less than 15%” would go to the group.  The second fundraiser told him that “not less than 10%” would go to the group!


And, under current accounting rules a charity that includes an “action step” in its phone or mail solicitations can claim it is “educating” the public and can categorize the expense as program and not fundraising.  Examples of these action steps are:  ‘don’t drink and drive’, ‘buckle your seat belt’ and ‘surveys’ (used heavily by political organizations).


What to do?

If not done yet, register all phone numbers on the DO NOT CALL list.  However, many charities are exempt from this list.  BUT if they call and the person who answers says, “remove me from your call list”, they must do so.


Create a ‘template’ letter that can be sent to all organizations to which the senior does not want to donate and they do not want their personal information sold or exchanged.  The letter can be printed as needed and sent to each organization.  Do not use the enclosed envelop of the solicitation as that address is a lock box.  Send it to the address on the original envelope, which is the headquarters.  This letter may need to be sent several times, but eventually from that charity solicitations will end.


Make sure your loved-ones are getting plenty of interesting mail from children, grand-children, other family members, friends and neighbors.  Send cards as often as possible.


Suggest they donate to the local office of an organization such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Heart Association, etc.


If there is any suspicion that the organization is not legitimate, contact the state attorney general’s office.


We need to do everything we can to keep our seniors safe.