How to Prevent Your Generous Donations from Inviting Endless Spam

Donating to charities can invite unwanted solicitations.


Despite the inadequate savings account funds belonging to millions of Americans in this slow economy, many still find solace in their ability to donate toward a cause they feel strongly about. What new donors may quickly come to realize, however, is that their act of kindness could leave them vulnerable to unwanted solicitations from the very causes they intended to support.

A very full spam folder
A very full spam folder

The Charity Navigator, a website that rates charity organizations, shared that the total giving to charitable organizations in 2011 was at $298.42 billion, an increase of 4 percent compared to 2010. Of that amount, 73 percent came directly from individual donors.

With so many Americans willing to donate to the millions of support groups soliciting for funds, it's imperative donors read between the lines—or, in my experience, the fine print. When I submitted my name and e-mail address for an entry to win a chance to meet President Barack Obama, little did I know I was unknowingly entertaining spam e-mail.

Obama for America Spam

The contest to dine with the president was sponsored by Obama for America, and no monetary contribution was necessary to enter, but donations were welcomed. I figured that it was no big deal, so why not? Upon entering the contest, I was taken to a page that continued to suggest I donate. I ignored it and moved on with my life (or so I thought).

Soon I was bombarded with daily spam e-mails containing messages that I "still have time to donate," and e-mails for other opportunities to meet the president—I just need to make a small $3 contribution to enter the new contest.

So far, I've been contacted by President Obama, Joe Biden, Michelle Obama, a few directors from the Obama for America group, and even Sarah Jessica Parker and Beyoncé Knowles, or so the e-mails suggest. All messages come from the general information e-mail address of Obama for America and contain a call to action to donate money.

I finally gave in, just to see what would happen after making the minimum $3 contribution to win a chance to attend President Obama's birthday bash. Although I knew it was probably a long-shot, I was curious to find out if contributing would put an end to the spam e-mail messages. After donating, I received a one-page thank you message and was told the following:

“If you want, you can increase your chances of winning today. For every donation you make, you'll be automatically entered again for the chance to win an invite to the president's birthday party.”

The option to donate an additional $5 contribution was easily provided. Interestingly enough, the fine print at the bottom of the contest page read: "No purchase, payment, or contribution necessary to enter or win. Contributing will not improve chances of winning."

How to Donate While Avoiding Spam E-mail

This level of spam e-mail solicitation is not new to those tenured with charitable giving. But new donors don't have to turn their backs to a cause just to stave off junk mail. Doing a bit of research about the organization can go a long way in preventing charity spam from squeezing its way into your inbox.

Privacy policy. Before donating to a charity, take a moment to read its donor privacy policy. Some organizations sell the e-mail addresses associated with smaller donations (e.g. $5, $25, etc.) to other similar charities in order to raise more money. This can lead to an increase in spam e-mail from charities you may not even have even heard of previously. If this practice is unsettling to you, try working with organizations who have explicitly stated that they do not sell personal information.

Opt-out feature. All solicitation e-mails should have an accompanying unsubscribe button, usually located at the bottom of the message in small print. If you don't intend to donate regularly, you can either opt out of e-mail alerts upon signing up to donate, or click the unsubscribe button. The opt-out process can range from simply clicking on a link to sending a written notice to the organization.

Pick one favorite. Spreading financial resources around to too many charities isn't going to do anyone much good. They won't get far with your $5 donation, and your spam folder will inevitably burst with hundreds of solicitations. Instead, devote your giving toward one organization whose mission you're passionate about, especially if your goal is to become a long-term donor.

Preventing a junk mail nightmare is really simple when donating to a charity, as long as you spend a minute or two digging beneath the surface of an organization's operation to protect yourself and your privacy first.

For my part, I have yet to unsubscribe from the Obama for America e-mails for the sole reason that I'm interested in finding out which celebrity or high-profile figure will reach out to me next.

Jennifer Calonia writes for, your source for the best CD rates, savings account rates, personal finance news, and more.