Direct Line Blog

Pack your bags, we’re going on a guilt trip

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Nearly every evening when I return home from work and check the tiny 5 x 15 inch mailbox in the lobby of my apartment building in Long Island City, it's literally so crammed with junk mail I have to brace my leg against the wall and pull with force to dislodge the stack.

Once extricated, the envelopes and unsolicited catalogs join a teetering pile on my sideboard until, finally, I can't take it anymore and sit down to go through the stuff, which is usually comprised of a diverse assortment of charity mailers begging for my support. Pollution is suffocating the planet, adorable sea birds are covered in crude oil, people are starving, children are unclothed and uneducated, evil corporations are drilling in our country's wildernesses, a variety of cancers are ravaging babies, mothers and the elderly, the homeless need food, the elderly need care, the holidays are coming and the tots need toys – and just a few pennies from me can make all the difference.

I've also been given an odd assortment of gifts in advance of my foregone generosity along with these mailers. Some associations send coins in the post, claiming that every dime, nickel or penny counts. (A cynical friend of mine speculated that the coins are included to prevent people from shredding the mailers without opening them first.) I've also received sets of AA batteries from an organization with some kind of tenuously related slogan about recharging an underprivileged child's education, as well as several tiny white canes for the blind, about six inches long with the thickness of a toothpick.

However, I've become a little desensitized. My guilt reflex is dulled from the deluge, especially around the holidays when the flood waters perceptibly rise. I've donated to various charities over the last  two years and now my name is on so many donor mailing lists, I'm just going to have to move – though, come to think of it, I can never move. I've been sent more free return address labels than I can use in 10 lifetimes. My children's children will have to remain in my studio apartment if there's any hope of utilizing all those labels.

I'll admit it's partially my own fault. I let the junk mail blossom, metastasize and burgeon into a daily flood of unsolicited and guilt-mongering paper appeals for my help.

And let me be clear, I don't think I'm being scammed – I just feel like I'm being spammed. It's essential that these types of mailings be targeted to the audience. The point is not to desensitize direct mail recipients to the point that they can see an appeal for children with a life-threatening illness and blithely toss it in the trash bin without even opening it.

On Oct. 31, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the U.K. announced the creation of a new free-to-use website through which people can more easily opt out of all undesired mail and tailor their preferences. Right now if you want to opt out, you have to register via three separate websites to do the same thing.

Apparently, the average British household receives roughly 400 pieces of unwanted mail annually, and I can vouch for the fact that I get about the same or more per year. The initiative launches in April 2012.

A similar program exists in the states, also under the auspices of the DMA, and I think I'm going to have to sign up for it. The site, called DMAchoice, divides direct mail into four categories: credit offers, catalogs, magazine offers and other mail offers. Within these categories, “you can request to start or stop receiving mail from individual companies within each category – or from an entire category at once.” There are a number of charities I actually do want to receive mailers from, so it's nice to have that option.

It seems to me that more targeted direct mailings, especially from charitable organizations, will save the groups themselves money, cut down on paper and make their recipients more likely to give.

In addition to signing up for DMAchoice, users can also register through the mail, which I might do instead of taking the online route – just so I can use one of my free address labels.

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