Enough of those silly address labels already!

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by Dan Tobias

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[Picture: Lots of labels]

The use of marketing gimmicks is not merely an attribute of the for-profit sector. Charities and other nonprofits have their own set of silly marketing stuff that they inundate people with incessantly. One very popular one is to send sheets of address labels as a "free" gift, in the hopes that you feel guilty about using them without sending them a donation. This tactic is nothing new (some charities were sending labels decades ago, even though the technology back then made it much harder to generate them), but it seems to be more widespread than ever now.

Those labels can be useful... the first time you get them, and maybe even the second, third, or a few more times until you build up a good supply of them. Every time you move, you have a new opportunity to find labels with your new address to be useful once again.

However, marketing types are never the sort of people known to stop at what's useful and reasonable. They just keep on going, running what used to be a good idea right over a cliff. Now, anybody who has a past record of giving to any sort of nonprofits, and is hence regarded as a hot prospect (or sucker) for every organization under the sun, gets flooded with sets of labels by the ton, in a flow that never stops, even after you have enough labels to last several lifetimes (especially given that people send a lot less paper mail now than they used to, what with e-mail, online bill-paying, etc. Even sticking those labels on such things as Netflix DVD returns, I barely make a dent in my label supply before more of them come in.)

I've prepared a response to this flood, which you can use too. Use the link below to go to a letter in PDF form which you can print out, stick one of the labels to (if you don't want to send it anonymously; it'll probably be more effective if it has a name attached to it), and stuff in the reply envelope that came with the labels.

I've been doing this for months, for all the sets of labels I've received (some organizations have sent me multiple sets within days of one another, and I've sent one of these replies each time). Thus far, I've had no visible response, but then again, one person sending these letters is just a lone crank. Lots of people doing it would become a Movement, and be much more visible!

But labels are hardly the only annoying thing nonprofit marketers do...

My mailbox is constantly choked with pitches from every conceivable charity and cause, especially near the end of the year, and some of them are hugely repetitive... once they come up with a silly marketing gimmick, they feel compelled to shove it at me again and again and again and again and again [repeat forever]. For instance, there's this phony survey from the ACLU...

[Picture: ACLU survey mailing]

OK, it looks like it has pretentions of appearing to be something beyond the "faux-surveys" lots of other nonprofits send... it's got an "envelope within the envelope" as if it were a timed and proctored exam that you were expected to keep sealed until the proper time to begin working on it, or an election ballot with a secure system to maintain privacy. But, sure enough, it's got that obligatory final "question" asking you to send them money:

[Picture: ACLU survey mailing: interior final page]

Rule of thumb: Any survey that ends by asking you to send them money is not a scientific survey. Surveys like this are sent to lists of people likely to be supporters (so it's self-fulfilling that responses will overwhelmingly support whatever cause the organization is backing), and they don't make a point of "rocking the boat" by asking any questions on subjects that might actually draw a variety of divergent responses even from their supporters; there are a number of things, from affirmative action to campus hate-speech bans to gun control, that have some variation of viewpoints among ACLU buffs, but none of them are mentioned in the survey. Just "softball" questions are used (like whether you're "Very Concerned", "Somewhat Concerned", "Not Very Concerned", or "Not Concerned At All" about "out-of-control government spying"), which aren't likely to produce any results of interest if they even bother to tabulate them.

And the ACLU also keeps sending me "membership renewal notices", since I was actually a card-carrying member at one point over 20 years ago. That's stretching the meaning of the term "renewal" quite a bit, but the notices keep coming, following me through multiple address changes. Some of them are noted as "final":

[Picture: ACLU 'final' renewal notice]

If only... I continue to get those notices even after several "final" ones.

[Picture: 'Crutch' mailing]

The ACLU is hardly the only offender. There are lots of other organizations that keep sending the same stuff over and over, like the people who sent the "crutch that's not a toy" pictured above. There's another charity that keeps sending a letter about how they're not wasting money sending silly marketing gimmicks like the stuff I've talked about here... but they have wasted their money sending a zillion repetitions of that letter!

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