Sep 20, 2004

and this we call shooting oneself in the foot

so i was just on the website of a non-profit that recycles computer gear and makes it available for the public
I think this is great. Super. Infact, I was on the web page because I wanted to support them and send my friends their way.
And I was surprised to find, when perusing their “donation” guideline pages, that they charge fees for particular donations.
Now, sure, some donations probably cost more than their total worth.
And sure, sometimes taking a donation of a difficult to process item, like a monitor, can be cost intensive to the point that you are more performing a SERVICE than a receiving donated assistance.
And sure, maybe I am a freak and hypercritical and have been on the development side of non-profits too long and have little faith in people.
But it seems to me that one should never, EVER charge a FEE for a donation.
It’s just bad marketing and politics and slaps those trying to help in the face.
If you are performing a service as a non-profit than you may, legally charge an at cost fee.
And you might pass out literature explaining that certain items have costs associated with them to encourage those donating said items to go the distance. You might also wish to explain this to investors and supporters when fund raising: “for every monitor donated it costs us X$ in order to process this item into a new working item, your donation of ten dollars helps us get one child/poor…”
But you do not ask people who are already going out of their way to give you something to pay you to do it.
I remember I was once training to be a volunteer for an organization when they informed the crowd that all volunteers were required to pay the membership fee.
I walked out.
I understood that as someone who supports the organization one should be willing to pay the membership fee as well. That it was symbolic. But wouldn’t it have been even more symbolic for the dang organization to front the membership fee in exchange for the hours of free labor we were donating to show gratitude and deference for our time and sacrifice? Wouldn’t it have made sense, even, to have encouraged us to do so, but not REQUIRED it?
I mean, it’s not that I can not understand how difficult it is, financially to perform a service for free or cheap. I have worked in non-profits for years and understand the complex juggling system that goes into creating services for altruistic purposes.
But I also understand that not everyone in the world would be willing to pay for the privilege to be part of your organization. That it is difficult enough to get people to give their extra cell phones to the needy or drop a ten dollar check in the mail or recycle or even sign a petition without throwing up road blocks and raising the mark even further on what is an acceptable required donation of their goods or time.
So it strikes me that this is just poor business sense.
It also strikes me that it is designed to make the organization very very exclusive and niche.
See when you make it difficult to do something, only those who think it’s really really worth it will bother. And in situations like non-profit businesses, that means those who are truly involved and understand your mission.
And sure, that might make the work parties more fun and the fundraising social events more hip and your donaters more savvy. But it inherently limits your business which inherently limits the amount of services, when services are the POINT, that you can deliver.
It’s silly and self-congratulatory and snobbish and exactly the kind of backwards thinking that gets a lot of lefty intellectual organizations into trouble.
So I might donate to this organization. But I am more likely to donate my TIME to their development director (if they have one) and assist them in coming up with a fundraising plan that helps people help them help others. Assuming that is, indeed, their point.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is hardly related, but reading your post just made me think of it.

If you wish to dispose (throw away, not donate) of a computer, you have two options: make a trip to a special recycing center and pay around twenty bucks for them the take it off your hands, or throw it in the trash and pay nothing.

Which would you choose?

As a way to alleviate the cost of recycling computer parts, as well as encourage consumers to do it, there is proposed legislation which would pass the cost to the manufacturers instead (who would of course just raise the price by the same amount, but that's not the point here). And what would the end result be? Consumers would then have the choice between throwing it in the trash for free, or making a special trip to recycle it for free. Which would they choose?

Better idea: require all computer manufacturers to take back their own products and recycle them themselves. That's surely worth raising the price to the consumer, especially if a little of that higher price is given back to the consumer when the product is brought in to die. Recycling by the consumer would be more likely, and maybe the manufacturers would spend more time trying to find ways to use reusable materials.