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Wasted Donations: Some charities spending more to get your money than giving out

Nancy Gilbert got fed up with all the charity mail she received-- so she kept it for a whole year to see how many pieces she got and who sent them. By year's end, she had almost 300 pieces, from 60 different organizations.

Are you sick and tired of all of the mail you get that asks you for donations?

If you’ve given money to certain charities, it’s a green flag to hit you up again and again.

Nancy Gilbert of Fresno got so fed up with all the letters she got, she decided to do an experiment.

She kept all the charity mail she received for a whole year!

She got close to 300 pieces of mail -- from more than 60 charities-- in 2017.

“It gets to the point where you feel bad, but you can’t donate to all of them,” Gilbert says.

She made her first donation to a cancer research group.

“I had cancer,” she says. “I know what goes on with it and how expensive it is and everything.”

Little did she realize another would come knocking.

And another.

And another.

And then other causes, too.

“VFW… American Diabetes… ASPCA,” she says.

“I’m thinking, ‘My goodness. Where does it stop?” Gilbert, a retiree, says. “It’s not like next month I’m gonna get a raise on my paycheck.”

The ASPCA and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Research Center each sent her 17 letters.

That averages to one letter every three weeks.

Some charities even offer so-called “freebies” as incentives to donate.

“Calendars. I’ve got 15 calendars this year! Who needs 15 calendars?” she says.

Some sent her socks.

She even got a calculator and re-useable shopping bags.

“Somebody paid for it. Somewhere along the line. I don’t think there’s a print shop that prints this stuff up for nothing.”

Charity watchdogs such as Charity Navigator and Guidestar say a healthy charity spends 15 percent or less on fundraising and administrative costs.

We uncovered the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or VFW, which mails out calendars and stationery sets, spends just seven cents for every dollar raised.

Others spend much more.

St. Joseph’s Indian School mails out socks and dream catchers.

It spends 33 cents to make a dollar.

That’s only 67 percent going to the actual cause.

Disabled Veterans National Foundation, which sends donors greeting cards and other so-called “freebies” spends a whopping 70 cents for every dollar it raises.

That means only 30 cents of every dollar raised is going to the people the charity says it’s helping.

Some even send coins — and checks.

“It is the donors that allow these organizations to work. We really can do nothing without the generosity of our donors,” says Barry Falke with the Central Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross.

The organization’s national headquarters usually handles donor requests.

He says as old-school of an approach as mail seems, it still pays off for charities.

It helps that non-profits get a steep discount from the U.S. Postal Service.

“The truth is, we wouldn’t be doing it if people weren’t responding. I think we see a really great response from mail pieces that go out. American red cross is not alone in that,” Falke says.

The American Red Cross does not sell its donors’ information.

But plenty of others do, as another way to raise money.

Kayleena Speakman with the Better Business Bureau says you should always ask what a charity does with your information.

“They actually sell the lists. So you want to know and ask them -- where is my name coming from? Are you going to sell my name to other companies or is this anonymous?”

It’s also important to look up the charity online, to make sure it’s legit.

The Better Business Bureau has a website that you can also check: give.org

Gilbert has gone as far as writing “Return to sender” on envelopes.

That hasn’t worked.

"If you get ten of these and you don’t send money, I would think someone would say ‘We are not gonna send her any more,” Gilbert says.

We reached out to the charities singled out in our story.

Danielle Arnold with ASPCA tells FOX26 News:

“A number of factors inform how often someone may receive mail from us, including an individual donor’s history and his or her communications preferences. Additionally, donors may opt out of communications at any time by contacting us. For specific instructions on updating one’s communications preferences as well as more details about how we collect, use, share and protect our donor’s information, please see our privacy policy”

St. Joseph’s Indian School also responded to our request for comment.

Jona Ohm with St. Joseph’s writes: The larger packages we send (such as those that contain socks, like you mentioned) come in at less than $1.75. Of course, not all our mailings cost that much and the majority are much less.

We are privately funded and direct mail is currently our most effective means of raising the funds necessary to keep our doors open for the children and families who turn to us for help.

Our mission is not to send mail. If the mail was not providing the needed funds to keep our doors open, we wouldn’t send it.

Direct mail may not always be the answer, but for now it is.

You can ask to remove your name from the Direct Marketing Association’s list.

It’s similar to a “Do not call” registry.

It costs $2 for ten years.

It won’t eliminate all the mail, but it should help cut it down.

For more information, click here.

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