How Do You Turn Away Cold Calls From Charities?

EVERYBODY wants my money. I bet I get 5 – 10 phone calls per week asking me to support this charity or that charity. Most of them sound like legitimate causes. However, it’s not possible for me to say yes to all of them.

I normally cut the person off fairly quickly and tell them that I’m not interested and hang up the phone. I know it probably sounds rude but I really don’t know what else to do. I figure they would rather find out sooner than later that they have no hope of success with me. In other words, I’m helping them move on to other potential donors.

As far as our giving goes, my wife and I tithe as well as give to several causes that we feel are important. We budget for these donations and have them paid automatically through our bank account. As a general rule, our budget doesn’t allow for extra giving (although maybe we should pencil in a small “spontaneous giving” fund).

My question to you is:

How do you say no to legitimate calls for help without feeling guilty?

Do you give to pretty much every charity that asks something of you or do you limit your giving to just a few charities?

36 thoughts on “How Do You Turn Away Cold Calls From Charities?”

  1. I plan my charitable giving in advance. I choose to give to a list that I know including Heifer International, the local food bank, public radio, and public television. If someone I know is doing a race, run, jumprope, read books, etc., I contribute to that. Otherwise, I just tell the caller that I have already made my contributions for the month/quarter/year.

  2. My wife and I adopted the following statement that is taped to the phone base:

    “I am sorry, but we have a household policy that we do not give to phone call requests. If you would like to send us literature for consideration, you may send it to our address.Thank you.”

    We hang up at the end of the statement. No, we will not provide the address. We do give fairly generously to a few charities, but they are of our choosing and none are there because of a phone call.

  3. First of all, I have enjoyed your site for awhile, thanks for all of the info you provide.

    My wife and I have much the same experience as you with tithing and committing to particular charities (where we know how the funds are utilized), yet receiving multiple phone calls for others. For some organizations, they simply outsource the phone calls and receive a certain percentage of the funds that are raised. We basically tell them that we have already committed to other charities and that we cannot help at this time. We would much rather give money that we know goes 100% to the organization and not to a middle man.

  4. My wife and I are also very active with our giving and in fact usually give more then we can deduct each year through donations and tithe, so we are like you in wanting to support a “good Cause” However, I have also spent a good deal of my career in sales and many of these organizations hire out the telemarketers and the telemarketing company will actually keep a small percentage of what you give. The people calling you are typically professionals in an industry that requires lots of phone calls to make a living. If you were to politely listen to their whole message knowing that you would not give then get off the phone that is at least four more potential calls they “could” have made. So for them it is about getting to the person that says yes not feeling bad about the person that hangs-up. My university actually uses current students for the task and they are even trained in this mentality. (which is good because the students do not feel beaten down). My suggestion quickly and politely say not that you and hang-up. Allow them to move on to their next call so they can get their job done.

  5. Thanks for the interesting topic. I’m curious to hear what others have to say about it.

    We also allocate our charitable giving fairly early, so I try to politely state that we have already made our charitable donations for the year and prefer not to make those decisions over the phone.

    It’s polite and to the point which they usually appreciate.

  6. JLP,
    I fully agree with you on interrupting charity spiels and telling them you are not interested. But we have gone a step further and screen all our calls. Any phone call we receive that we don’t recognize (on the caller ID) we don’t answer. Charities and telemarketers will generally show up on the caller ID as either Unknown Caller, and 800 Toll Free, or with a cryptic abbreviation. We tell family and friends to leave a message if we don’t pick up because we screen calls, but we generally can tell it is someone we want to talk to. There aren’t many cases when we miss a legitimate call. Occasionally someone using a calling card will show up as an 800 number. Works great for us.

  7. I tell the caller that I’ve already allocated my charitable donations for the year and to please remove me from their calling list. I did speak to one rather persistent police officer once, but generally find this to be a good strategy.

  8. A good and quick “I’m already commited to other organizations, but good luck going forward”, then hang up. Why tie them up if the answer is going to be no. get it over with and then go to the next call. I also like the pre-printed message about no phone solicitation and reviewing if they mail to you. If you have some time and want to see if you are beuing scammed, just ask them for a web site, and see what their reaction is (sometimes it can be priceless 🙂 ).

  9. I always say politely, “I’m sorry, but I already give regularly to several other charities. Thank you though.” Obviously it makes no sense for me to be thanking them, but it enables me to hang up without feeling guilty. I also use this approach when asked in person to donate to anything.

    By the way, if it’s a cause I think is NOT worthwhile (like my sorority’s foundation which hits me up regularaly) and I’m in the right mood (like when they call me at 8am on a Saturday), I’ll gladly add to my previous comment that “while there are still hungry children and abused women in this world, I won’t be donating money so overpriveliged sorority girls can go to leadership camp each summer.” I say it just as politely.

  10. I interrupt as quickly as possible and tell them that I have set charities I give to, please take me off their list, and to have a nice day. Then, I hang up. I even do this for the charities I *do* give to. They’re on my list, I give during a certain month, and I don’t appreciate phone calls from people I don’t know. Generally, I don’t feel guilty. It’s my money to do with as a choose.

  11. I’d like to add that I DO think some of those foundations are worthwhile and I WOULD consider sponsoring normal (i.e. not hungry or impoverished) kids to partake in things like leadership camp eventually. However given the limited amount I have to give at this stage, I prefer to send my charitable dollars to charities dealing with more serious issues.

    this is a closer to what I ACTUALLY say to the people who call such as my alma maters and sorority foundation.

  12. I usually tell the caller that I never make donations over the phone unless I call the organization myself. If they are at my door, I tell them that I don’t give donations to people who knock on my door. Then I politely hang up/close the door.

  13. I don’t get them so much anymore, especially since I don’t have a land line. But when I did, I just told them that I don’t make donations over the phone, but if they are willing to mail me information, I’d be happy to take a look at it. It works.

  14. JLP,
    I only donate to the charities that have directly affected me or my family (ie – the Local Fire Dept., Sherriff’s Ofc., AFSP, etc.). That may seem selfish, but I cannot afford to give to everyone. So, I’m picky. If there comes a time when I need the services of another charity or organization, then they’ll be added to my list, also.

  15. A couple quick responses:

    Crisp but not quite accurate:
    “We do not respond to solicitations.”

    More accurate but a little snarky:
    “We respond the same way to all solicitations, thanks but no thanks.”

    The one I usually use:
    “I do my giving on an annual basis and my process is based on research rather than solicitations. Please remove me from your call and mail list.”

  16. I’ve had similar luck along the lines of what Roy uses. I simply say: “I won’t pledge any money over the phone, but if you’d like to send me some information I’d be happy to take a look at it.” Sometimes they will persist, but I just say it again and that’s usually the end of it- if they do persist I just hang up. If they actually send me something I usually do give them something since it’s so rare.

  17. I normally tell the caller that I already have a charity that I am donating to and will continue to donate to that charity. That usually stops them from continuing.

  18. I turn away those calls because…how do you think the caller is earning a living? Many telemarketing groups take a crazy percentage of what they raise in donations.

    I’d rather give as an independent person without going through compensated fundraisers. I want the most money possible to go to the actual company.

    Also, it keeps one from having time to do due diligence. There are plenty of fake charities or ones who may put only about 20% of your money towards the actual programs (or less). Sites like Charity Navigator will help you evaluate how charities spend.

  19. I use the same strategy as many of the others that have commented. I politely tell the solicitor that I plan all of my charitable contributions in advance and make a personal policy not to stray from my annual contribution plan.

    Then I make sure that I stick to my guns, because invariably they plead the case of why their charity still warrants my money.


  20. I get 0 calls. So find a way to be like me. How did I do it? I’m not sure. I got on the do-not-call list, and for anyone else, I just aggressively pursued removal from the call list.

    If you have a psychological concern, think of it this way: The giving you do does not require the overhead of telephone calls. Nor should it.

  21. “Everybody wants money.” NO KIDDING!! Especially if you’ve given money to another charity in the past – you get on the “list.” I just don’t answer the phone if I don’t recognize the number. I’ll let my machine get it. If its someone I know they’ll leave a message. Some people are incapable of not answering a ringing phone – not me – I don’t have time to talk to people I don’t know.

    The other day I picked up the phone to make a call and darned if one of those charities wasn’t calling – what are the odds I pick up the phone the exact time someone is calling in. They had the gall to say they spoke with me a few weeks ago and said I’d agreed to send in a payment and I hadn’t yet, but they could take care of it over the phone for me. I just politely denied and said I do everything through the mail – my credit card has been a victim of theft too often in the past (which is true).

    I guess I’ve learned to be abrupt from my days as a library manager – I had to tell people on the phone “no” so many times and I’ve heard every technique there is – bullying, passive-aggressive, sympathy, etc. But its my time and money and I’m the only one who has the right to put constraints on it.

    I was also reading in Money Magazine that its better to give a large sum to one charity than to give smaller sums to a bunch of charities. They said the charities will keep spending money to solicit you in the future basically negating the donation you initially gave.

  22. To me, there is no such thing as a legitimate telemarketing call. I am on the Do Not Call list, but charities that call me are glad to point out to me that they are immune to that law. That gives me the idea that disrespect is their default mode, but actually, the idea of calling people to make a sale, solicit a donation, tell someone how they ought to vote, or even to collect a debt not owed to the caller has to have disrespect as its primary value. “No” is the nicest answer I have for any unauthorized caller who violates my privacy. The answer here is never yes. My vote is for the calls to stop, and that is the only way they ever will, if a greater majority of victims would do the same thing.

    I like to help individuals in my little corner of the world, when I am able to do so. I’m not so big on charity organizations, as they generally aim to help many people at the expense of better helping a particular individual.

  23. My pat response to any phone solicitation is that we do not respond to trelophone solicitations. Ever sence I had a man swear at me for not buying light bulbs I have felt justified. The woman who asked me why I had a phone if I would not donate just reinforsed my convictions.

    LIke others we prefer to give in a thoughtful, researched way .

  24. “No, thank you.” [CLICK]

    Really, why would you feel obligated to be polite to someone who invades your privacy and interrupts what you’re doing, whether it’s to pitch a sale or to hit you up for a donation? There’s no need to engage these people in any conversation at all, nor is it necessary to be polite to them. Busting in to your home through the phone line is far from polite to you!

    I’m capable of choosing the causes I’ll support without being hustled by telephone solicitors, and so I feel no guilt whatsoever at telling them “no.”

    The National Do Not Call List does not protect you from solicitors for “charities” (some of which are NOT), because the law doesn’t apply to nonprofits. However, there’s an inexpensive gadget called a Telezapper that plugs in-line with any of your phone extensions. It emits a tone that tells the solicitor’s automatic dialler (which is a computer) that the line has been disconnected. This will cause your number to fall off the computer’s list of active numbers, and it disconnects the call before the solicitor starts to pitch you. The device works on about 85% of boiler-room equipment.

    I’ve found the combination of the Do Not Call listing and the Telezapper has cut the nuisance calls from several a day to maybe one or two a month.

  25. I never pick up my residential phone unless I notice a caller ID from a friend of mine. Every call with an unknown ID I receive potentially costs me $40, based on my past experience. 99% of the time I only pick up my cell phone calls. I found out my cell phone service subscription is essentially a great investment with at least 100% after-tax return, as I must have dodged dozens of $40 residential phone calls.

    On the other hand, because placing an outgoing call via a residential phone reduces the exposure to the higher energy microwaves from the cell phone, I think I would perpetually keep my residential phone service, a cheap health insurance.

  26. I do a varied combination of the above.

    On my mobile I don’t answer private numbers. I don’t usually answer our landline at all. And if I do, and there’s no one there immediately I hang up straight away. If they start talking I say “we give monthly to several charities of our choice.” and hang up. Of course mostly they call selling raffle tickets which annoys me no end. From a purely economical standpoint I can’t deduct those “tickets”. I would also much rather donate in a way that doesn’t need those overheads.

    Plus I do my fair share of charity work, raising donations and giving myself.

  27. During a more desperate time, I was a cold caller for an organization that raised money for law enforcement organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police. Very little of the money received went to the organization itself. The highest rate was 18%. What the callers were doing for a living was convincing people to give up $25 so that the organization could get $3.75. That’s my most personal reason.

    There are many reasons not to, however.

    1. Risk of theft of identity or financial/personal information. You don’t know if the organization is who they say they are.

    2. Charity budget should be decided on in advance. I figure out which charities I’m supporting every year and save money aside for this purpose. Except for some additional giving to my church and people I know who are in need.

    3. You shouldn’t make financial decisions under pressure and without taking time to research. You wouldn’t buy a cell phone plan after listening only to the sales rep, whose sales goals may conflict with what’s best for you and the organization.

    4. Telemarketing is annoying, regardless of the cause. Don’t encourage them. The Internet is huge and it’s easy to find organizations and easier than ever to network with people locally to help.

  28. I have a list of charities I contribute to on my own every year. It drives me crazy when they send solicitations to me using my money.

    If I get a call from a charity I never heard of, I ask them to send information to me. I never make a contribution on the phone.

  29. I solved the problem (and many more) but dropping our landline. Now with just a mobile phone, I only answer if the number comes up as recognized, and if not, it goes to voicemail. If it is important, they will leave a message.

    Of course, I rarely use a personal phone as it is. The way I see it, if I want to talk to someone, I’ll call them. My phone usage last month was about 42 minutes. most of which came from weekly calls to my parents, and to/from my wife.

    Of course, the charities we do contribute to are relentless in sending their crap in the mail as well. Every few months it seems like they have some sort of reminder about how it is time to donate again.

  30. Why on earth should you feel guilty? These people are calling you without your explicit permission, potentially wasting your time and cellphone minutes. If anything they should feel guilty for calling you. If their feelings are hurt by being turned down then they should go find another job. The best method is to quickly and politely say “Thanks but I am not interested and would like to be removed from your marketing/calling/mailing list” so that they can get on with finding a yes from someone else. I also don’t ask them to send me anything because I don’t want them to waste time/money sending me something to throw away.

  31. Trent Hamm over at The Simple Dollar said: “‘Every time you say “yes” outside of your plan, you let down something you care about even more. Once you really learn that, “no” becomes a much easier thing to say.'”

    I feel guilty turning down contributions towards certain causes sometimes too, but when you think about it the way Trent phrased it, saying “no” doesn’t feel so rough. It’s not that they’re bad causes, but it’s like you said, you already have other commitments.

  32. If you already give to charity, then I would’nt feel guilty at all. Why should we support invasive marketing techniques like cold calling, soliciting, spam etc.

  33. I’m totally with Wilson and Kin…we don’t pick up any calls that we don’t recognize (and even some that we *do* recognize, if we don’t feel like talking :-). Just because the phone rings doesn’t mean we have to pick it up. Our friends and relatives know we do this, and if we don’t recognize the number, and we hear a familiar voice starting to leave a message, we’ll then pick it up.

    Probably the worst case is the local volunteer fire department coming to our door. My wife felt compelled to give to them last year, so they came again this year. I said no, and he seemed very disappointed, clearly writing something in big letters next to our address on his clipboard. Makes one wonder if they’ll fight a fire at our address?

  34. The key here is “feeling guilty.” Guilt is only a state of mind and we initiate it ourselves and waste a lot of time doing so. You have a plan for your life, you stick to it, and nobody is going to steer you off the path. Why feel guilty about that?

  35. If they give me a chance to speak, I say, “Sorry, but we already have several charities we give to.” However, more often than not they are just as bad as telemarketers and tend to drone on. I wait long enough to see if it sounds like they are going to at least ask if I have time to talk. After about 10 seconds or so, though, if they haven’t paused long enough for me to get a word in edgewise, I just hang up.

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