Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Nonprofits getting itchy about your money

I’ve been getting lots of nonprofit pitches in the mail of late, mostly of the “happy holidays and how about a few bucks?” variety.

Charities are finding it to be a rough go. Even after laying off their low-paid staffs, it’s still a challenge to keep going and keep paying their six-figure executives and executive VPs and development directors, let alone carry out their mission, which is usually to help people but ends up being about telemarketing and mailing out begging letters.

In St. Petersburg, Fla., a charity called “Navy Veterans” raised hundreds of millions of dollars through intrusive telemarketing, telling people that members of the Navy were deprived of just about everything in life and that in addition to their taxes going to the military, they needed to donate to Navy Veterans. It all turned out to be a big scam, and the guy at the top of the pile is still MIA, though some of his former underlings at the charity are guests of the government for the next couple of decades.

If you ever served in the military or worked for the Postal Service, you no doubt had to deal with the organized extortion that passed for charity. In fact, the military got the worst of it because not only did you get pitched for the dreaded Combined Federal Campaign, you had to deal with – in the case of the Navy and Marine Corps – Navy Relief.

One of my big memories of being at Naval Air Station Memphis in Millington, Tenn., in late 1978 was not just learning electronics the military way, but enduring the pitches for both charities. In basic training, we were hit up for money for both, but at the naval base after basic training, the hammer came down.

I still remember the day when the officer in charge of our training, a Navy commander, announced that there would be a meeting where an important matter would be discussed. We wondered what it would be: Were we at war? Had something terrible happened to our country? The whole lot of us sat there in our seats as his nibs the commander said to us, “Today, I want to talk to you about something that is so very important. I want to talk to you about … Navy Relief.”

It was like the air was removed from the room. Yet again, we who made $397.50 a month (E-1 pay in 1978) were being subjected to a request on our flimsy paychecks. Usually, people who gave these presentations left the room pissed off at the response. The more cynical among the low-ranked said that Navy Relief was a big scam the officers set up to benefit themselves.

The Combined Federal Campaign was another pain in the ass. I still remember that at the post office every employee had to get a sales pitch from the designated CFC representative while on the clock. I sat down with a female co-worker whose big problem was that she was deaf, and her vocal skills were very rudimentary, but still understandable.

She made the pitch, and I said that I had already made my donations for the year privately. Her response left no ambiguity: “You cheap f—k!”

I got up and walked out of the meeting.

One year, they gave a film presentation, and then the personnel office chief, a really screwed-up woman, said we all ought to give because we were so lucky to have jobs. Very few stayed behind to fill out the forms for donations.

Most of us suspected that CFC participation was part of our bosses’ evaluation and we wanted no part of it if that was the case, or we could give money on our own. No one wanted the Postal Service to get credit for any donations, and especially not the local bosses.

The nonprofit industry has turned into a big deal, especially if you’re a top executive, and it’s inevitable that a large number of the people interviewed in news stories about the poor are top executives for nonprofits, and who themselves will never have to avail themselves of the services they provide for others.

There are plenty of suckers willing to work for nothing at nonprofits, and that’s to the advantage of the top executives, who can continue to pad their resumes and their bank balances. I, for one, have decided to stop donating to nonprofits for this reason. Call me cheap, but charity begins at home, I say.

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December 26, 2011 - Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , , ,

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