First, to be clear, I have no hostility for the U.S. Postal Service. I like the people who work there and value the work they do. Unfortunately, technological change has taken a significant portion of their business. Nonetheless, I trust they will find ways to continue their important services.

Second, to avoid misunderstanding, I admire many of 1.5 million not-for-profit religious, charitable, and similar organizations in the United States. It does give me some distress that number has increased by 36% in that past decade.

I am troubled, as you too might be, by the torrent of mail seeking funding in my mail box each day. Most of these requests carry a sense of urgency.

Many very worthy natural features and inhabitants of our world are endangered. Research on most illnesses with debilitating and ultimately fatal consequences are under-funded. And, of course, there are untold numbers of persons and properties on the many pathways of decline and decay leading to death or destruction.

But why, in 2023, did I receive seven, full-color 8.5x11, nature-themed calendars for 2024? In the rest of my life, I will not be able to use all the address stickers currently in my possession.

I am not mentioning the incredibly frequent and intrusive pleading on my public radio and TV stations for funding.

Often I’d happily support the local or state chapter of a worthwhile cause, but I can’t do that. My donation has to go to some aggregation point (perhaps in Nebraska or South Dakota) without any indication of how much comes back to Indiana.

I understand economies of scale in handling mailed-in contributions, but appropriate fund-raising should indicate what portion of my contribution goes to the local affiliate. The percentage may vary from state-to-state depending on the incidence of the need. We don’t expect any funding for saving Indiana polar bears.

National political organizations are also irritating. Indiana is mostly ignored because the national body is concerned only with winning today and not with building capability for tomorrow.

Now, back to the mail. Why can’t all those underfunded illnesses get together and do one mailing? I admire the IU Foundation on this score. They offer a variety of university activities, like the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC), that a donor can choose to support. It’s a beginning, although the choices are not as many as I would like to see.

The same is true for the multitude of nature/environmental preservation efforts. The United Way could be an aggregator and central processing agency that leaves the allocation of funds to the donor.

Once or twice a year, a mailing with pretty scenes, pathetic victims, and a single calendar could be delivered to each household. But would we contribute more or less in total?

I hope the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy knows.
Morton J. Marcus is an economist formerly with the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. His column appears in Indiana newspapers, and his views can be followed his podcast.

© 2024 Morton J. Marcus