A donation for a favor

“Paper is a big challenge. The mailman always brings more.” I hear some version of that sentiment quite often. Even after they have gone through the process of opting out of credit card and insurance offers, a large percentage of my clients struggle with an influx of unsolicited mail. Envelopes filled with pre-printed return address labels, bundles of cheesy seasonal cards, calendars, and the occasional random penny or nickel, yield slippery piles of unruly papers. And all the senders of these “gifts,” invitations, and pleas want is a donation for their good cause. Ninety-some-odd percent of the time, their attempts result in generous contributions to recycling bins and short-lasting relief on the faces of these clients.

Mind you, I’m all for good causes. I spent many years working in the nonprofit educational realm – art and natural history museums in NYC and San Francisco – and volunteer in my spare time. Nonprofits depend on the support of individual donors, and I’m happy to contribute to their betterment of our world and ways each year. But I had a lapse recently when, for the first time ever, I became a museum member. (One of the great benefits of museum employment was free museum entry at any reciprocating institution. I miss that.)

Weeks after my membership welcome arrived in the mail, so too did a solicitation from another museum. Oh dammit. That’s right. Nonprofits sell our information to other nonprofits, and in my case, the unsolicited mail cycle was resuscitated. I stopped that train mid-track by phoning both organizations to ask that my name be removed from all mailing lists and to request they do not sell or distribute my information. The unwanted mail ceased.

As we find ourselves in the midst of the season of giving, sharing, and storytelling, my hope is this little tale can contribute to the betterment of your desk, entryway, dining room table and/or countertop as the new year begins.

It is extremely rare to find a “donate” page on a nonprofit’s website that provides a box for you to specify if your donation is in honor of someone/s, write a note or message to the organization, and/or allow you to opt out of being added to their mailing list. So here’s what I do. I resort to a tried and true approach and mail a check with a letter. The basic version goes something like this:

To whom it may concern,

Enclosed please find my donation to [awesome nonprofit]. I am happy to donate because of the meaningful and vital work you do.

In exchange, I wish to ask the following: Please do not add me to your mailing lists or sell my information. I hope you will honor my desire to provide support without being inundated by mail that I do not wish to receive. My mailbox is on a diet : )


P.S. Perhaps you’ll consider adding a box to the main donation form page on your website for donors like myself to donate quickly while providing us with an opt out option at the same time. I bet it could help save you time and resources in the future.

Less paper to manage yields more time for things that matter. Think of all the things you can do if you minimize your time shuffling unwanted mail.

And that, my friends, is my gift to you!

There are few more checks to be written over here…

Look behind the curtain…and the name

When you read the name Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP), it’s easy to assume what population this nonprofit serves and make a good guess what kind of services it provides. That assumption changed drastically for me and several of my colleagues when I extend the invitation for a tour of their facility.

Five years ago, the now 22-year-old HPP purchased and occupied its current home, a big grey building with a nondescript facade on the corner of 18th and Potrero streets in San Francisco. Once we were past the front desk, we were struck by the friendly and open physical interior of this surprisingly modern and inviting space that once upon a time was fixed up by a now evaporated dot-com. Visual awe gave way, however, to a deep sense of amazement and frequent mouthing of “wow” at one another as the extraordinary array of services provided by HPP was described by our tour leaders, Continue reading

A basement full of books

Goodwill book donation signThe lure of the current occupant of the former Coca-Cola bottling plant in San Francisco brought me back for my third visit in a year-and-a-half. Here I was, again, at the processing facility for Goodwill of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin Counties. The more I learn about the incredible ways this organization is serving the community at large, the more I want to help them shout it from the rooftop.

This time the majority of my visit was as far from the roof as you could get. There in the basement – once the restroom, locker room, and shower for the plant workers – lives the department of e-commerce. What brought me here was books, and a desire to explore another piece of the recycling puzzle. (Read about my previous visit when I explored and documented textile recycling at this facility.) For here is a place where you can recycle encyclopedias, textbooks, novels, dictionaries, how-to books…you name it! Continue reading

Goodwill not landfill

Nearly a year and a half ago, my research about clothing recycling options led to an invitation for a personal tour of the San Francisco-based processing facility of Goodwill Industries of San Francisco, San Mateo, and Marin counties.

Each regional Goodwill chapter is at liberty to establish its own programs and initiatives, and locally, these focus on the following triple bottom line: job training and skills development, revenue generation, and recycling.

Goodwill Industries San Francisco’s commitment to a sustainable environment has led to the creation of an environmental business which includes creative reuse, retail sales, and bulk materials sales that combined, keep tons of material out of the landfill. Among this is an annual 260 tons of salvage textiles.

Here’s a photo essay (of course my camera was in tow!) that reveals what can happen to clothing and textiles: Continue reading