How to keep charities from selling your name

If charities realized how much they’re irritating people with nonstop solicitations and by sharing or selling donor lists to other nonprofits, they might even think twice about it.

Nah, not really.


As long as the never-ending stream of junk mail brings in more money than it costs, we can count on our mailboxes being stuffed with pleading letters and “free” return address stickers.

Obviously, stopping this is up to us, or at least those of us who are more than a little annoyed that our do-good intentions are backfiring. So what can we do? That question came from more than 50 readers after my previous column on how donations over the holidays lead to more requests from similar charities – even from the charities to which they just sent a check.

I sought answers from Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities and is a good place to check for information on how much each charity spends on good works compared with administrative and fundraising. The organization’s chief operating officer, Larry Lieberman, had a couple of good ideas.

Start by taking the initiative, making it clear to charities what you find acceptable and what you don’t. If you get an unwanted solicitation in the mail, use the return envelope and donation form to write clearly, “Please take me off your mailing list and do not share my information with anyone else.” (One reader said she staples a note to her donation form, saying, “I do not give you permission to sell or share my information with any other group or person.” It seems to work.)

If you are interested in donating to a particular group, Lieberman said, look for its privacy policy. (Yes, that can be a pain, too). Some charities will state outright that they don’t sell or share your information; others have a box you can check to stipulate that you don’t want your name or address going to other organizations. And if they don’t say anything, consider using the reply envelope to respond with a note saying, “I might want to give, but what is your donor privacy policy?”

Finally, Lieberman offers one fool-proof path for donating without your information being spread around: Donate online through Charity Navigator. It lets you decide how much personal information you want to share with the charity. And you still get a receipt to use for tax deductions.

There’s a slight catch, though. While Charity Navigator doesn’t take a cut of donations, Network for Good, which processes donations, does – nearly 4 percent. You can pay via PayPal, but be aware that the payment site takes an additional 2.2 percent plus 30 cents for each transaction.

That’s just fine with me. I’ll happily donate a little more to keep my information private. And it has the added convenience of keeping all donations in one, organized place. Writing notes to every charity that comes through the door via my mailbox isn’t my style; tossing them without opening them is so much easier.

So now I can still feel that I’m helping the world a little, without feeling like a chump.

Karin Klein is a freelance journalist in Orange County who has covered education, science and food policy. She can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter @kklein100.