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Tired of charity hassles? Check out this Web site

Chicago Sun-Times

October 25, 2004



It's an annoying byproduct of charitable giving: a well-meaning donor writes a $10 check to a charity and is promptly rewarded with a dozen more solicitations.

But the unwanted pleas, ploys and free address labels are turning some donors off.

"It's such a scorched-earth policy, because what it does is it turns off people like you and me," said Trent Stamp, executive director of the nonprofit Charity Navigator, which monitors charities. "This is the No. 1 complaint that we get."

The watchdog group aims to change that, with a new online feature that allows consumers to see whether the charities they want to help have a privacy policy against selling or trading people's names or at least offer a prominently posted "opt-out" policy for donors. The free service will be available starting Dec. 1 at www.charitynavigator.org.

An estimated 50 percent of charitable donations are made between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Stamp said. Donors are more likely to feel generous during the holidays, and many are looking for an end-of-the-year tax deduction.

Name selling or trading typically happens to donors who give smaller amounts of money. Charities decide they can make more money selling the person's name than by cultivating them as long-term givers.

"They have more value selling your name to 25 other charities for a buck apiece," Stamp said.

The Council of Better Business Bureaus' Wise Giving Alliance requires that charities include an opt-out feature in written appeals at least annually and prominently post privacy policies on their Web sites if they want to meet the alliance's standards.

About 85 percent of people interviewed for a 2001 survey commissioned by the alliance expressed concern about donors' privacy, said Bennett Weiner, chief operating officer for the alliance, which operates www.give.org.

Consumers who don't want their name sold should tell that to the charity, and if the charity won't comply, consumers should take their money elsewhere, said Suzanne Coffman, spokeswoman for GuideStar, another Internet-based charity information organization. "If a charity is ethical, they're going to respect a donor's request not to sell their name. It's that simple," Coffman said.

Coffman suggested consumers check out charitable giving sites, such as www.networkforgood.org and www.justgive.org, which allow donors to anonymously donate to their favorite organizations yet still get a receipt for tax purposes.

Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp., a group that helps consumers reduce unwanted junk mail, telemarketing calls, junk faxes and e-mail spam, said aggressive selling and trading of consumers' names will hurt charities in the long run.

"From our experience talking with consumers, it's a major reason that people hesitate to donate to charity," Catlett said.

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