Friday, September 30, 2011

Pretending charity; how cynicism is damaging people in genuine need of a hand.

I got an intriguing largish envelope in the mail the other day.  Personally addressed.  It was from the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (Pty Ltd).  The envelope contained the following:

  • Covering letter in faux-handwriting addressed to dear sir/madam etc.
  • 8x assorted Christmas cards, various artists and styles, mainly carefully secular or semi-secular in design and wording.
  • 8x envelopes for said cards.
  • 2x printed bookmarks with artwork
  • 1x 'Pocket Calendar', a card with a picture, a tiny 2011/12 calendar and a list of important dates.
  • An order form pre-printed with my name a details, and a range of products for sale from Mouth and Foot Painting Artsists Pty Ptd
  • Small-format envelope addressed to sender, to put the order form in.

Of course, the mail was entirely unsolicited, and presumably has come via some mailing list purchased by them from another party.  I'm guessing it was Silver Chain most likely, an organisation that assists with low-cost home nursing, and which is itself partly funded by donation and partly government subsidised.  I am on their mailing list because I got a visit (free of charge) once from a specialist stoma care nurse (they have ONE such person covering all of Western Australia btw) after I had my tube placed.

At the top line of the order form, it says "YES! I have decided to purchase this package and enclose the $17.00....."etc etc or somesuch.  Underneath are tick-box options for ordering more products of a similar ilk.  The cover letter, whose faux-handwriting font could almost be seen as a feature specifically designed to make you not want to read it, is full of blather about the life challenges that people without hands and/or arms face - all real enough of course - and that your purchase would help them.  Well, the ones employed by this company anyway.

For that's the thing.  Christmas cards are by now a familiar fundraising venture for many charities, and this little unsolicited effort not only jumps on that bandwagon, but one-ups the genuine charities in the process.  Genuine charities?  Yes, because this is all set up to seem at every turn a charitable enterprise, yet it is nothing of the sort.  It is a Pty Ltd company, set up to make profit, like any other company.  It is not a registered charity, nor does it make any reference to using its profits to help the wider community of handless folk, or anyone else for that matter, apart from paying a dividend to the artists themselves (presumably in the form of purchased rights to their artworks).

Then there's the guilt factor.  It's cleverly constructed.  There is no mention of obligation in the cover letter, but the order form comes with this clever little phrasing: "Please send the whole order form when ordering, and do not send the form with unwanted goods.  Please note: these goods are sent without obligation".  So, they never ask you to send them back, but suggest in the most weaselly fashion that if you're not buying, you really *should*.  Think of the poor handless people.  That return envelop is nicely sized to fit the order form, but not the cards.  And it needs a stamp too.  Plus, you know tat if you could find an envelope big enough to take all the stuff then it'd cost more than a regular stamp and so.......the implication is that keeping the cards is stealing, sort of, or somehow not fair, even though they make it really hard for you to send this gear you never asked for back.

It's creepy, dishonest, and worst of all demeans not just those folk who do genuinely need some assistance with their lives without hands but also everyone else who has ever relied on needed help from a charity in any form, cheapening as it does the whole transactional framework.  This company has really lowered the bar for decency not as it applies to everyday businesses - after all they can stand or fall on their reputations and take the consequences themselves - but by branding itself as a charity in all but actual word and tax status it casts a new and negative pall across the whole realm of charitable donation seeking.

Thus, despite the fact that some of the cards are rather nice (if printed on cheap and flimsy stock and overpriced compared to usual store-bought assorted sets of better quality) I am entirely disinclined to reward this company with my cash.  And it's a shame, because had it been done differently, had I been sent for example a simple coloured single-page catalogue of designs I could choose from and order, rewarding the artists more directly, or under the auspices of a genuinely constructed charitable enterprise, I may well have found exactly the Christmas cards I will need (insh'allah and all that) this year.

Why am I even giving it oxygen then?  Because I have mixed feelings.  It'd be great to see a successful outlet for these artists, and for that I wish the enterprise well, but for what this little exercise in cynical marketing says about the way we must have become that such a thing would be contemplated and, just perhaps, successful, well........I dislike it.

So here's what I'm going to do.  The first 8 people to comment with a single-word theme for me to work from, please also private message or email me with your mailing address.  And I'll write you a haiku or tiny poem on one of the cards incorporating your word theme and the cover image.

Because I don't want to use them as Christmas cards, and I'd hate for them to go to waste.  this seems like a lovely translation of energy.  And you get some old-fashioned mail to look forward to.

This might be a bit of fun, eh?

PS: Speaking of the qwirly nexus of money, commerce, charity and transforming energy, those who are so inclined may still donate to my Natural Burial Fund here.  I'm not even going to mention how much of that word that starts with "o" and ends with"bligation" isn't involved with this notice. :-)  Thank you for the thought, regardless.


  1. btw, we just got something very similar, from the Lakota Children's Education Fund. it came with "4 -- not 3! -- Free Gifts!", incl. a dream catcher made in China... oy.

  2. heaven was the first thing that came to mind. More Fred Astaire's "Heaven" if you've ever heard that song...

  3. Hello. I realise this is an old posting. I just received a similar envelope from Mouth and Foot Painting Artists Pty Ltd. I don't like my name being sold on mailing lists so I rang to inquire. Got called an @***hole by the receptionist for my troubles.