Friday, March 19, 2010

Day 31: The Postman Gives Twice

The mail brought us two different giving opportunities over the last couple of days - one of them local to Indiana and one more global in scope. So we took advantage of both of them.

The Gift of Song and Laughter
For several weeks, Amber has been attending a yoga class at the local Unity Church of Anderson, and I've attended a meditation class there. We've gone to a couple of services, as well, and are finding it a relatively good fit for what we're looking for.

Well, last night when Amber went to Unity for yoga class, something unexpected happened. An envelope had come to the church addressed to me, in the care of the pastor. The pastor knew that Amber attended the yoga class, so left it for her there. Presumably the pastor, having learned of our project, passed the word along to some sort of mailing list or forum or something, and someone sent a response to the only address that they knew - to the church from which they'd heard about it.

Both Amber and I were thinking the same thing, because we'd been really trying to figure out how to get to the $10,000 goal for Heifer International. Could this possibly be a check for Heifer? Would it just fall into our lap like this? Did things like this really, truly happen? Was The Secret actually right?

This was actually a fairly foolish way of thinking, but not because such a thing is absolutely outside the realm of possibility. (I still check the mail expecting a $10,000 check, just in case.) The fact is that the envelope was 6" x 9" and padded, which was way more than what would be needed for a check. 

Still, it could have included a book or a pamphlet or something, along with the check. 

There was hope. 


Well, it wasn't a check.

But it was  a very nice gift: a CD by a comedic singer named Greg Tamblyn, called Analog Brain in a Digital World. There was a note included which commended my efforts and also directed me toward track 12, "A Brief History of God (G-String Theory)." The CD was really funny, and we're both very pleased to receive it. (Although, again, if you wish to send a $10,000 check, I'll be checking the mail for it daily. Apparently, if you address mail to me at Unity Church of Anderson, it will find its way to me.)

The musician, Greg Tamblyn, also suggested in the note that I should check out the charity

I guess I knew where I was giving the next day (i.e. today).

As it turns out, Trees for Life is actually a really great charity. They have the highest possible rating on Charity Navigator, and they have a similar "pass on the gift" philosophy to Heifer International. (In fact, Heifer was founded by a member of Church of the Brethren, and Trees of Life indicates it has a connection to Church of the Brethren's volunteer arm. Also, their web pages follow fairly similar layouts. I'm not sure yet if the connection is more substantive than that, though.)

When founded in the early 1980s, Trees for Life focused on planting fruit trees in impoverished regions. Since then, the organization has grown into supporting a wide range of locally-initiated projects around the world. Since the programs are initiated by members of the community, they automatically have a local base to work from in getting community involvement, and aren't just outsiders who are trying to implement their own ideas.

Plus, as with Heifer International, this charity gives you a sort of "shopping fix" while you're donating, because you get to add things to your shopping cart. Your donations can now include gifts of trees, books, libraries, cook stoves, learning centers, computers, and various educational materials.

Masonic Giving
In the standard mail today, I also received a letter from the Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons. The Indiana Freemasons were sending me address labels, and asking for a donation.

This is actually a fairly standard ploy to gain responses. Marketing people have figured out a lot of ways to heighten our likelihood to respond to something and I think it's good that we all know about it. (For a more comprehensive list, interested readers should look into Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Way to Be Persuasive.) Providing a minor gift - address labels or a notepad, for example - increases the likelihood that a recipient will respond to the mailing. Adding a personal note, handwritten, on the letter also helps. And a sticky note on the document? You bet - it helps personalize the mail and, therefore, increases the possibility that the person will positively respond.

One of the major persuasive strategies is getting people to make a small concession in the beginning, such as putting up a small yard sign, before asking for a bigger concession, such as a monetary donation. Since people have agreed, there's a psychological predisposition to respond favorably to a subsequent request. (Did you become my fan on Facebook? Then you should donate to Heifer International!)

If you live in the United States, you likely received a notice about a week ago letting you know that the census  was coming and you should respond. (You have responded, haven't you?) This is the same sort of thing. In fact, a friend of mine who works in marketing called this a "fluffer," presumably because it gets the recipient ready to do the real work you're asking them to do. (If you don't know what this has to do with the word "fluffer," you'll need to look that up on your own. Kids may read this blog.)

Still, completely aware of all of these tactics, I went ahead and donated to them. Just because these persuasive tactics are used has no indication on whether or not the organization is worthy of the donation. Really, if an opportunity to give comes up during the project, I don't see that I can really pass it up. (Only 9 more days, charity telemarketers!) So they got a donation from us today, as well.