Harry wasn’t rich, nor was he poor. As he neared retirement he had enough shekels set aside to get him to The Barn without outside help, or so he hoped. During his lifetime he had donated a few hundred bucks per year to worthy causes. His favorites were the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, a couple of area food banks, and some random other organizations.
His earliest contributions had gone to FDR to help cure infantile paralysis. Then came WW2 and the war bond drives. Whatever Harry gave, he felt good about it.
But now things seemed different. For one thing, today there were at least 3,229 causes and groups asking for money. The appeals came in many ways — U.S. mail, the telephone, the internet, TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, strangers Harry met on the street.
Harry was fascinated by the tools and methods the fundraisers used. One of them was personalized printing. Many of the mail pieces bore his name not only on the incoming envelopes, but on the text inside. “Harry, we do appreciate your generosity over the years. ...” It was a lie. He hadn’t sent them a nickel since VJ Day.
A couple of the places even manufactured a title for Harry. “Dear Professor Hinklestone.” Another lie — Harry had never taught anyone anything, except maybe his dog.
Some of the solicitations promised Harry a gift if only he contributed a few bucks. Tote bags were big, these days. Harry owned four, even though he didn’t do much toting. Same thing with return-address labels. At last count Harry’s desk drawers contained enough of them to last him 60 years past the Second Coming.
Oddly enough, the fundraising reached a fever pitch in each year’s final weeks. Perhaps this is a sign of the fund raisers’ poor judgment — to ask for contributions during the Christmas season, when the main concern of millions of people was how to afford the holiday gifts they were buying.
The benefits of the fundraising tide that is sweeping our country are several. Although I’m appalled to see the dozens of begging letters that stuff my mailbox each month, I realize the disaster that would occur if, overnight, fund raisers were forbidden to use the U.S. mail. Overnight, untold numbers of postal workers would lose their jobs. They would no longer be needed.
Something like that would also occur if the anonymous hounds who fund-raise by means of telephone calls were to be banned or prosecuted for their daily (and nightly) interruptions into our homes.
There must be thousands of these pests scattered across our land, using either their own voices or a tape machine to make their pitches.
One result: many homeowners simply don’t respond to their calls. We glance at our phone display fields, don’t recognize the name or number of the caller, and then squelch whoever it is. Even if we pick up the phone, the first words will be that of a tape. Even worse, we’ll find ourselves speaking with a man or woman who not only wants a contribution but who will also ask us to state exactly how much we intend to give. Plus our credit card and/or Social Security numbers.
And they bloody well don’t want you and me to ask questions about them or their employer. “What is your name, please? Could I speak to your supervisor? Would you send me a pamphlet describing your organization?” The phone call usually ends, abruptly, at that point.
In my checkered career I have twice worked in fundraising — once for a university and later for a large hospital. I learned that fundraising (often going under the euphemism “development”) can be a noble, necessary profession. It can also be a devious, scurrilous, sometimes hilarious pursuit. But that can be said of a hundred other occupations.
Stripped down, isn’t fundraising just another form of begging? And aren’t most of us beggars at one time or another? The swain begs his beloved to swoon for him. The salesperson begs his customer to buy the product or service. The writer, chef, singer or trumpet player implores his/her audience to applaud. And the politician holding or seeking office? Ah, fellow citizens, hold on to your seats. During the next 17 months we shall see beggary in its highest and lowest forms.