Hey Sam! I seem to remember you being familiar with the process of how non-profits solicit donations. Any advice on how to get off a shared mailing-list if you’ve been put on it without your knowledge? And/or how to donate to specific charities without unknowingly ending up on one of these shared lists? I’d hate to just stop donating, but one small donation seems to have snowballed into 8+ separate mailers full of “free gifts” I’m not interested in and it’s only been a couple months.


It’s tough, because oftentimes even if you get off the mailing list, your address stays in the system, so larger nonprofits sometimes ignore the “do not solicit” designation on your record. Smaller ones also have an issue – I’ve been working on my office to be better about purging do-not-solicits from mailing lists, with middling success. Smaller nonprofits sometimes just don’t have very good data integrity. Like, if someone registers for a fundraising event with us, sometimes they get a duplicate record in our system because our event software (all we can afford) doesn’t play nice with our database (also all we can afford) and then they have one record that says “do not mail” and an identical one that doesn’t have that designation. We do our best to fix that but we’re a small team.

All of which is to say that there’s no magic bullet, just…alternate strategies.

Probably the most thorough way to get off a list is to look on the website for a phone number attached to any kind of giving – “Call this number to give by phone” or “Contact Development office here” and call that, then ask to speak to someone on the Data or Gift Processing team who can help you with your address in the database. You want to speak to a real live person who has access to the database (sometimes called a CRM) and can change your information in it. You can either ask them to remove your address completely, or you can ask them to put the strongest possible “do not mail” restrictions on your record. Tell them you’re just trying not to get too much in the mail and that it could impact your giving decisions in the future.

You can also just circle their address, write “return to sender”, and pop the solicitations in the mailbox unopened; usually they’ll remove your address as a “bad address” if you do that, though that may only work until the next time they do a data refresh 😀

However, the best possible way is never to give them your address in the first place. There are a couple of ways to do this; you can buy a visa giftcard and use that to give, entering either the address the card directs you to, or a made-up address (I’ve used Wrigley Field before). Some places allow you to direct-debit from a bank account or investment account, in which case the bank’s address goes out on it. Or you can use a Donor Advised Fund to give “anonymously” – for example my DAF of choice, Charityvest, allows you to control how much the org sees, from “Nothing at all” to “just your name” to “all your details”. Charityvest has a required minimum $20 donation if you’re giving, but that’s sometimes the cost of anonymity I guess. Also, Facebook fundraisers only ever give the nonprofit your name and the amount you gave (nonprofits are LIVID about this) so giving through Facebook is actually kind of a good way to go, in terms of data management.

Anyhow, it sucks when a nonprofit sells your data (pretty sure UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders did a listswap and that’s why DWB now sends me tchochkes sometimes) but sometimes it’s just that the nonprofits aren’t perfect about data integrity.

If you are in the UK, you can use the Fundraising Preference Service