Thursday, 23 August 2007

Charity Junk Mail

I have spent a lot of time since returning writing to over 50 charities on behalf of my Grandma. I recently discovered she has been sending donations going into hundreds of pounds per month in response to an ever-increasing deluge of mail coming through her door. For those new to this blog, my Grandma has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Of course, the more you donate to charity, the more mail you get. And I have been surprised, really shocked in fact, at the tenacity of some of the campaigns. At least one organisation I discovered is under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority. But even charities I considered well-known and reputable are using what I would describe as questionable tactics for extracting donations.

The worst ones are the fake memos sent by supposed secretaries to heads of charities, marked urgent, and then 'copied in' to the recipient in the mailout.
Or the ones enclosing 'secret' documents revealing ambitious project plans.
Or the truly dreadful 'written for you' replies saying 'Dear charity, thank you so much for my free umbrella. I realise how important your work is (blah blah) and so I enclose a donation of (amount already circled for you, say £25? how convenient)...
They must be aware that many of the people who donate by post are elderly.

In my Grandma's case, she is now at the stage where we have had to get joint Enduring Power of Attorney. And so, with the realisation that money much needed to pay for her future care is being given away, has come the need for intervention. It has been a marathon, but a necessary one because I also discovered that simply informing the Mailing Preference Service won't bring about a quick solution. It does stamp out most unwanted mail in the end but it takes weeks.

We needed action to be immediate. It has felt uncomfortable asking these charities not to write again, but I decided to leave in place any standing orders or direct debits to charities my Grandma set up before her judgement became impaired.

And now we get to the question of autonomy. This has been my first act as attorney. It feels both wrong and right. I feel uncomfortable about making a decision about who my Grandma chooses to donate her money to, but I feel it is right to combat the often manipulative and wheedling mailings that are landing on her doormat daily.

I am going to complain about at least 10 charities to the Advertising Standards Authority. I just can't believe the methods used to get donations. And I feel sad and angry that my Grandma has been lost in a fog of confusion over which charity to give to, which cheque to write, to the point that she just started giving to all of them.


fluttertongue said...

This really is very sad. I have mixed feelings towards charities. It is sad that their campaigning methods play not on our generosity but our guilt. One of the major problems is that contemporary ecomonics (which seems to play an ever greater role in society: I was shocked to hear a few years ago the news that bringing up a child cost such and such amount. Who on earth decided to put a price tag on children?) has no place for the third sector and yet they still have to operate within it. If you look at most charities, their fund-raising department far outnumbers their distribution department. That they are in competition with each other makes matters much worse.
I'm not sure there is an answer. But spending a vast amount of donations on posting out junk mail is, one would think, counterproductive. Much like putting people on the streets at a high salary to pester you.

You're doing a difficult job there. My thoughts are with you.

seahorse said...

Very interesting insight Fluttertongue. It's sad all round, and in some cases criminal.

Maggie said...

Good to see you back posting. :-)

I'm sure you'll be fine with the EPA. My Dad set one up jointly and severally with John and Mum named. It worked OK once we managed to persuade Mum that we had to do it. But she was losing it by then, and began to accuse John of stealing all Dad's money and all her money etc.

She refused to set up an EPA when she still could, so now she is EMI (Elderly Mentally Infirm) we will have to go to the Court of Protection to get a Receiver appointed. This takes time, and I'm told is quite costly.

We have an appt with Dad's solicitor early in September, to try and sort out Probate. So John and I are going to do EPAs then. There's absolutely no way that we want to put our girls through the pain and hassle that Mum has put us through over the last few months.

You are doing the right thing. I do hope your Gran is getting the help she needs - is she still able to live at home?

Good luck with it all, and have a pat on the back from me! :-)

Hugs from Liverpool, it was supposed to be sunny today I thought, but we only had about half an hour so far. Am sick of all the grey!

Philip. said...

I didn't realise this osrt of thing went on.


I wish you all the best in reporting them!

seahorse said...

Maggie thanks so much. It's great to connect with people going through the same thing. Yes my Gran is ok at home for now, but you wonder at what stage of the illness to consider care options. Opinion on how moving into care affects Alzheimer's is divided. For now we are buying in as much home support as possible.
I think having a joint EPA should work well for us because the responsibility is shared. No one person has to shoulder it all. I know I certainly couldn't keep this up as a constant pressure. Nor could my Mum.
Re the Court of Protection, I've heard good as well as bad. Like all systems it comes down to who you deal with, and some people have been able to arrange a home visit to discuss their affairs. It does take time, but then sorting things out as an attorney takes time as well. It all adds up to a very long road. With quite a few bumps.

seahorse said...

Philip: Ooooh yes, it's quite an eye opener. I recommend the Mailing Preference Service to anyone up against this problem. But if you uncover the level of donations my Gran has been making, you have to take firmer action. And having visited today with my Mum to find yet more mail, I really am going to write to the Advertising Standards Authority, enclosing the most offensive campaigns. They picked the wrong Grandma to mess with. I inherited her tenacity and sense of decency and am happy to put it to good use.

Cusp said...

Just to say that I've been through all this too.

My Dad had Alzheimer's (and my mother-in-law) and eventually we had to get EPA and towards the last few years apply for C of P too. It was a very difficult step to take and I did feel very odd managing my parents' affairs and having to completely rejig their finances (they were of the old school and would not have Direct Debits or debit cards so that bills went unpaid and utilties woud be cut off...)

It's the point where your suddenly become the parent and they become the child (in a way). You feel guilty but it is the best thing to do all round. I also spent many years working with people with dementia when I was well and I would say that it is best to keep the PWA at home/in familiar surroundings as long as possible.

Charities are a Curate's Egg. On the one hand I hope you are getting info and suport from the Alzheimers Soc about your Grandma's care and the financial side of things. They can be extremely helpful in terms of telephone info/support lines and leaflets (also contact your local Age Concern and see if they have a Specialist dementia dept ---sometimes called ACCESS--- as their support can be invaluable)

On the other hand, after my father died my mother felt very sympathetic to various charities and was eventuually plagued by some. Even after she had died and I had written to tell them they continued to send letters. Even now I am having a battle with Cancer Reserach UK because I made a donation in response to all the great support they gave me when Mum was dying but now I get 'guilt inducing' pleas at least once a month and, though I still appreciate all their good work, my funds are not a bottomless pit.

seahorse said...

Cusp, thanks for your advice. We do have an Admiral Nurse, and she's been fantastic. I am interested in contacting Age Concern though, that's a really good idea. I think it's unfortunate that 'good causes' have to operate in this way. I don't believe that inducing guilt is the right way to raise funds. And continuing to write after someone's death is appalling, but I've experienced that too. Basically marketing departments just churn out this stuff regardless.

Anonymous said...

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