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Giving Is Hard: Organizations Make It Harder

After a year-end marathon week of donating to dozens of my favorite charities online this past December, I concluded some nonprofits make it exceedingly difficult for me to give them my money.

Every year I vow to spread my donations over 12 months so I don’t go crazy as the end of the tax year approaches. But most years I only get a few donations made before Christmas, setting me up for an annual sprint before the ball drops on New Year’s Eve.

I decided years ago to ignore the avalanche of mailed solicitations and make all my gifts online. That saves postage and should save time, but that’s not always the case. The frustration level is often so high that I’m tempted to blow off the offending nonprofit.

In 2014 I donated to 68 nonprofits in my areas of interest — primarily historical and preservation groups, environmental organizations, feeding and housing programs for the indigent, and veterans’ aid groups.

Some donations went smoothly. A click on the homepage took me directly to a form to send money. The most helpful groups retain your address and other information that can be called up with the click of another button. Others at least set up prompts in each box so as you start to type it lets you fill in the information with one click. Some, such as Reef Relief, let you go right to PayPal so all you have to do is log on there, select an amount and pay.

But most sites make you fill in your name, address and email address on the initial donation page. Fair enough (although I’m not thrilled that the saluation of Mr., Mrs., etc., is sometimes a required field). Then you have to go to the payment page where some sites have a button to check if your credit card name and address is the same information as you filled out on the first page. Fine. But some sites make you fill out all the same name and address information that you just filled out all over again. Grrrrgggh!

One of the biggest frustrations comes when you put down the wrong information or leave a box blank. The more user-friendly sites simply send you back to the first page to rectify the problem and then hit the “submit” button again. But some organizations, including a prominent nonprofit that provides housing for returning veterans, take you back to the first page again and wipe out everything you’ve typed in and make you start all over from scratch. Double grrrrgggh!

Probably the biggest aggravation is sites that are so confusing that you just can’t find the place to donate money. Some have buttons on the home screen for donations and when you click them it takes you to explanations of where your money goes or benefits you can receive from membership but nowhere to be found is an actual page to make the donation. Many sites, such as one for a major Midwestern university, don’t list all the funds and scholarships you might want to donate to and don’t provide any search mechanism to find them.

In my fantasy world of charitable giving, there would be one central website to which all nonprofits would belong. You would register and supply your personal information once. From then on all you would have to do is log on and then go through a list of charities, click on the ones you want to support, provide an amount, and hit submit. Simple and fast.

I realize this would require unprecedented cooperation among hundreds of nonprofits and some initial expense. But think of how much more money they might receive if they made life easier for people instead of leaving them wanting to throw their laptops out the window.

And while I’m venting, why can’t nonprofits keep track of which donors — like me — want to deal with them only online so they don’t keep calling or inundating my mailbox with solicitation letters. When charities call me, I tell them I only want to hear from them online — they insist on me giving them my email address anyway — and to put me on a do-not-call list, which sometimes works. But I still get tons of mail from them, which I never open. It wastes my time and costs them a lot of money, not to mention wasting paper.

So why don’t these groups put a check-off on their website donation forms about how you want to be contacted — and how you don’t wanted be contacted — and stop wasting my time, their money and trees?
Bill Bleyer is a writer in Bayville, N.Y.

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