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September 30, 2005 12:03 AM

Broken: Unicef plea

Orig_envelopeReturnAmber Steele writes:

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine got this letter from Unicef in the mail. The nickel is real, and the envelope states that "this nickel could save a child's life!" The letter tells story after story of dying children, and how they can be saved for just pennies.

What's broken is that they actually ask, even if you can't afford to contribute, to have the nickel sent BACK to them. In an envelope that's not postage paid! So, they're asking people to pay for a stamp to send a nickel (that can "save a child's life") BACK to them, when they could have kept it in the first place!

(and because I'm sure SOMEBODY will mention it, yes, the envelope is printed on the "back," and yes, that is broken (from traditional standards, anyway) too.)


i like the contribution amounts of $100 and $500.

whoever thought of this needs some help.

Posted by: gmangw at September 30, 2005 12:36 AM

Its a US organization, postage should be free. Also i would just wait till some trick or treater comes w/ the unicef box on halloween.

Posted by: Phil at September 30, 2005 01:40 AM

If every nickel counts, these folks are only proving that they have plenty of nickels--so why do they need mine? After all, they can apparently afford to not only give away untold bazillions of them in these mailings, but they can pay the postage to mail them all out as well.

Apparently, they are counting on the guilt factor to force people to send the nickel back, with the added hope that while they're at it they'll include a contribution. I'm just cynical enough to laugh derisively and hope I get one so I can put it in a parking meter somewhere.

Bonus is that after going to all the expense to mail out all these bazillion nickels, they are too stingy to provide a postage paid reply, thus--and this is key--making it more expensive than a nickel to send the nickel back. They have simultaneously ensured that anyone predisposed to keep the nickel actually does at the same time they have made it more difficult and more expensive to contribute, since now you have to go to the bother of finding or buying or otherwise obtaining and affixing a stamp!

Not to be one to criticize without offering a solution, I propose that they either offer a prepaid reply envelope (with the request, as I've seen on many other organizations fundraising envelopes) that you apply a stamp anyway to save them the cost of postage, OR add a request that you add an extra 37c to your contribution to at least cover postage--or, preferably, both. This way they recoup the cost of sending the nickel (and let's face it, either way the postage costs them less than it costs the contributors), they offer the contributor an option that doesn't require extra work or effort--always a no no when asking for help--and they reduce the impact of being faced with spending 37c to send back 5c you didn't want in the first place. I have to wonder how many people are perverse enough to send checks for exactly 5c, or even moreso, send back the same actual nickel!

I still can't believe they are trying to convince me that 5c is such a big freakin' deal that it means so little to them that they spend money to mail them out all over the country. Either it IS such a big deal that 5c is so valuable that they shouldn't be wasting all these nickels and postage, or a nickel really ISN'T worth so much so why bother sending it back, not to mention sending in a contribution just so they can mail out more money. It is logically inconsistent.

Yep, definitely broken.

Posted by: Erich at September 30, 2005 06:29 AM

yes, broken, BTW great post Erich, thats tellin 'em!

Posted by: Ed at September 30, 2005 08:47 AM

You guys are committing the Capital Crime of Usability. You're *guessing* how you think the system is working and how people are behaving.

In this case, the user is not the general public, the user is UNICEF. They are the ones who have the task to accomplish.

The simple thing is, for all your guessing, we need to FIRST ask if this campaign has a net positive value for them. I'll bet the answer is yes.

Note that a single one-time $50 donation pays for 1000 nickels, and they likely have an arrangement for postage.

You guys oughtta turn in your Usability Evangelist badges out of shame.

Posted by: DaveC426913 at September 30, 2005 09:20 AM

Hey I have an idea. Let's all get real bitter about those bastards at UNICEF.

The reason they want you to 'show your support by sending the nickel back' is to get you involved. They know no one is going to send the nickel back by itself.

As far as sending a paid envelope with it, that may be a good idea but to not do it hardly makes it broken. They were probably concerned that lots of morons would put the 5รง in it and send it off, costing them whatever they have to for postage (which I have heard is more for a Bus. reply then standard rates)

They are just showing that even a nickel can help, that you don't need to contribute huge amounts of money to make a difference. It is an example, a rhetorical point, a metaphor, think of someone saying "I'm so hungry I could eat a horse" or "more nickels then you can shake a stick at"

They sure are counting on the guilt factor, and so what? Every charity sends out mailers, it's called fundraising. Geesh.

Posted by: ron at September 30, 2005 09:26 AM

i dont know how one could possibly take up such a thickheaded position on the matter. Erich is entirely correct in what he said. I want one of those letters simply so I can give them the same nickel in return. I am at a loss to understand how such a broken agency is still around. There are literally hundreds of organizations that I can donate to, so I think I will give it to one that I think will actually use the funds for the good of others. this is one of the most broken things on This is broken in a long time.

Posted by: yoyo at September 30, 2005 09:48 AM

yeah when your main fundraiser is forcing boxes onto elementary school children at halloween you are in trouble. it seems like an request for an online donation would make more sense, i think money is easier to spend when you cant see it (and credit card companies agree). 'come to our site and give this nickel back! but since you will feel cheap typing in $0.05, why not put a 10 in front?'

Posted by: gmangw at September 30, 2005 10:16 AM

davec...: How does the charity become the "user?" The users are either the contributors to or the recipients of the charity (or both). The charity receives money and provides services. (Similar to a company providing services--in this case, the services are provided for someone other than the person who paid for them). If you count only the recipients, then your analysis has some validity (whatever strategy raises the most money is best); but the posting is from the potential contributor's point of view. At the very least, it seems strange to emphasise the importance of every nickel, while mailing out nickels! So this is at least broken from the donor's pov.

Posted by: gonk at September 30, 2005 12:54 PM

I was going to post something about taking the corredct point of view in response to DaveC, but gronk has ably taken care of that.

Posted by: Carlos Gomez at September 30, 2005 01:45 PM

As a supporter of UNICEF, I am saddened that they have abviously goofed. I agree that this is broken. The above comments should reach them so that they can learn about what works and what doesn't. They need this feedback. Even big organizations generally respond to positive comments. I will try to get this link to them.

Posted by: Tom Wylie at September 30, 2005 01:45 PM

I gotta go with "kind of dumb" but not "broken" on this one. Maybe even "crazy like a fox."

It really seems dumb to mail an actual nickel and ask for the nickel back. But maybe they have done their homework and are simply pandering to those out there who they know will send more money, more often when approached in this dumb (looking) way.

I mean, look at how we reward moronic happy talk when it comes from our political leaders these days.

Posted by: Pat at September 30, 2005 03:15 PM

I think GMANGW has given us an excelent idea on how to make this fundraising a lot more successful. But the way it is now is definitely BROKEN. Actually, one of the most broken things I have ever seen on TIB.

Posted by: SAM at September 30, 2005 04:05 PM

I think folks should drop the return envelope with nickel back in the mail with no return address. Then it will show up at UNICEF as postage due, but heck, they get their nickel back!

Posted by: Hoki at September 30, 2005 08:49 PM

Wow. I rarly ever try to be mean or cruel in life, but hoki, commiting a federal offence just doesn't seem to be the answer here.

Posted by: Jeff at September 30, 2005 09:58 PM

Jeff - federal offense? Can you site the section of U.S. code that makes it a federal crime to put something in the mail without postage?

Phil (second post, way back up there) - Um, UNICEF is not a U.S. organization. That "UN" at the beginning used to stand for "United Nations", and it's still very much an international relief agency.

All, despite this blunder, UNICEF is worthy of support, and here's how:

Posted by: stoo at September 30, 2005 10:36 PM

I worked for a nonprofit briefly, dealing with their mailing database.

They keep track of what each mailing campaign costs and what it makes back. Most of the mailings they sent out got an approximately 100% return. Over the course of many years, they have a pretty good database of what works and what doesn't; The nickel trick has been around for a while, and if you asked the right consultant, they could tell you exactly how much taping a nickel to a mailer will cost, exactly how much net profit it will produce, and how many nickels get sent back with expletives.

We got tons of returned envelopes with nothing in them, clearly from people who thought they could stick it to us by making us spend thirty cents in return postage. So Hoki ain't the first to come up with this one.

The amounts ($100 and $500 in this case) are selected to be one bracket up from the range of the person's last contribution. So despite the fact that Amber is annoyed by this mailing, she's been giving at a reasonable level at the past.

If you write `please don't send me this stuff' on the reply form, somebody will eventually get it into the database and you'll stop receiving these onerous, soul-crushingly broken nickels. The point of these mailings is targeted PR and fundraising, so if you're not happy and not gonna send anything, they have no interest in pushing you.

Outside of that organization, I've heard more than enough people point out how annoying nonprofit mailings can be. The system is broken in the sense that some people will take bulk mail as somehow inefficient or as reflecting badly on the nonprofit. But they're the most effective means these guys have of making money. When is the last time you, on a whim, popped over to and threw some unsolicited money their way? If they don't ask, they don't get.

Oh, and the one thing I do find broken about mass mailings with nickels or fake credit cards is that I have to open them and remove this stuff before throwing it in the recycling bin.

Posted by: Mr BK of Baltimore, MD at October 1, 2005 10:37 AM

It's not a federal offense, but Hoki got a point wrong. What you do is copy UNICEF's address into the return address so that it gets returned to sender- to UNICEF. If there's no postage or return address then it goes into storage to be claimed, if it's not claimed the USPS takes any money it finds inside and destroys the mail.

And Phil- UNICEF is a UN organization, not US.

Posted by: Bob at October 1, 2005 12:41 PM

Mr. BK- it's not the mass mailing that's annoying me here. It's the fact that UNICEF is essentially throwing away all these nickels (lets face it, a good portion of those aren't going to be returned) while telling me that they alone can save children's lives. It makes me feel like they're not using their resources wisely (throwing away nickels, and adding to their postage costs by mailing something heavy to boot), which makes me not want to give them any more. I understand that they need to solicit to gain funds, but this is a HORRIBLE way of doing so.

Posted by: ambrocked at October 1, 2005 01:51 PM

Hey, can I tell Phil that it's not a US org., it's a UN org. too??? Oh, anywyas, I've got a quote here, you ready? "It takes money, to make money." ahhhh yes. If I could turn a nickel into 50 bucks, I'd do it in a hearbeat, won't work everytime, but when it does, I'm sure it'd pay for the times it didn't work. :)

Posted by: noname at October 1, 2005 06:10 PM

>" If I could turn a nickel into 50 bucks, >I'd do it in a hearbeat, won't work >everytime, but when it does, I'm sure it'd >pay for the times it didn't work. :)"

do you frequent casinos?

Posted by: lookoverthere at October 1, 2005 11:49 PM

THIS IS NOT BROKEN!!! If another person sends money, they get those lost nickels back of the people who didn't wanna pay 37 cents for a stamp to send back 5 cents or returned the nickel alone!

Posted by: invo at October 1, 2005 11:56 PM

but fewer people are going to send money to an organization whose methods just dont make much sense.

Posted by: gmangw at October 2, 2005 12:43 AM

Sorry everyone, from a marketing standpoint this is not broken. The idea is by giving you the nickle, they are putting the life of a child in your hands which (hopefully) compels you to act. And you're right, since your spending 37 cents to mail it back why just mail the nickle, why not donate more, which is the whole point of the campaign. Of course, the nickles could be put towards relief efforts, but they're just a small portion of the overall costs of the mailer. If the mailer wasn't expected to bring back more funds than it spends, they wouldn't send it.

Posted by: sensiblesensible at October 2, 2005 07:51 AM

Well, that's great, 'sensible,' but given that most people aren't thinking about marketing tactics when this stuff comes in their mailbox, it really doesn't make it any less broken. People see a poor use of an organization's resources, which again, makes them less likely to donate, and IS therefore, broken.

Posted by: ambrocked at October 2, 2005 03:13 PM

stoo asked: "Can you site the section of U.S. code that makes it a federal crime to put something in the mail without postage?"

Sure can. It's 18 USC 1725:

"Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits any mailable matter such as statements of accounts, circulars, sale bills, or other like matter, on which no postage has been paid, in any letter box established, approved, or accepted by the Postal Service for the receipt or delivery of mail matter on any mail route with intent to avoid payment of lawful postage thereon, shall for each such offense be fined under this title."

Posted by: D.F. Manno at October 2, 2005 03:56 PM

I think all non-profit mail campaigns are broken. I used to get one envelope once or twice a year and I would occassionally donate. It seems like I get them weekly now- from the same organizations.

I've stopped donating. My small donation can't possibly cover the amount of mail they send me and the waste of paper shows a horrible disregard for the environment.

I wish they would give contributers a choice of how often and by what method they wish to be solicited.

Posted by: Poor_Statue at October 2, 2005 04:26 PM

>do you frequent casinos?

Naa, never been to one.

Posted by: noname at October 2, 2005 06:26 PM

I cede the point, Mr. Manno, but how could this possibly or feasibly be enforced? It may be in the law, but what are they gonna do, fingerprint the envelope?

Posted by: Bob at October 3, 2005 08:11 AM

DF Manno -- Good try, but no cigar. According to the GAO, "The law was intended to stop businesses from delivering or using private carriers to deliver mailable matter to mailboxes

without paying postage(.)" In other words, it would be a crime for me to go UNICEF headquarters and put an envelope in their mailbox, but it's not a crime for me to put mail without postage in *my* mailbox for pickup.

Posted by: stoo at October 3, 2005 10:09 AM

Yeah, what stoo said. This law was to prevent UPS or other private companies from delivering mail into your mailbox, thus maintaining the US Postal Service monopoly. In effect, a private carrier would be required to have a separate box to deliver to.

I checked with my postmaster to be sure, and he said they process mail without postage all the time and simply deliver it postage due. However, the addressee can simply refuse it.

The question is, would UNICEF refuse an envelope that could potentially contain a large donation?

Heck, I'm almost curious enough to mail off a $100 without a stamp to find out!

Uh....anyone got a $100 to loan me? ;)

Posted by: Hoki at October 3, 2005 01:59 PM

I'd loan you a $100, but I'd rather try it myself.;)

Posted by: Sido at October 5, 2005 11:31 PM

Be a rebel, keep the money. Stick it to the man! And show those starving kids in africa that it's their own fault. Grr! Ya gotta love the logic behind a charity that will send out money, ask for more (plus the original money), and run the gamble of losing thousands of dollars in five cent increments. They shoulda been sending out hundred dollar bills instead!

Posted by: Cheezbawl2003 at October 6, 2005 04:47 PM

I wish I had a nickel -_-

Posted by: v at November 21, 2005 02:48 PM

Shouldnt UNICEF be using that nickel to save a childs life instead of sending it to you?

Posted by: spacecase at March 27, 2006 06:17 PM

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