Take Me Off Your Damn List, UNICEF!

Trixare4kids is one of those zen consumerists who can sit in the lotus position for hours, a telephone nuzzled into the crook of her neck, as she hypnotically murmurs chakras to herself and tries to get herself removed from mailing lists. She’s pleasant, perky and polite with CSRs, but she is adamant in getting her name off the labeled stickers a thousand companies a year slap on half a tree and smash through her mail slot.

Of course, sometimes, no matter how pleasant and resolved you are to get satisfaction from a company that is harassing you, it doesn’t matter: you call up and get some snotty pill on the other end of the phone. Trix ended up getting in a bit of a scuffle with UNICEF, of all organizations, when they started claiming they needed to take down her telephone number to remove her from a mailing list.

What Trix is wondering is whether or not there would be any reason for UNICEF to request her phone number to remove her from a mailing list. We can answer that: of course there is! They are hoping to migrate you from their mail harassment list to a phone harassment list. Just be glad you don’t find college students with UNICEF armbands twitching like hopped-up amphetamine junkies on your doorstep twice a week, like I do.

As part of my “no junk mail” campaign, I have signed up with the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service http://www.dmaconsumers.org/offmailinglist.html , opted out of credit offers https://www.optoutprescreen.com, and followed a lot of the advice from here: http://www.obviously.com/junkmail/

Also, acting on a tip from a fellow consumerist reader, I started saving up the catalogs and pleas for donations from various organization. Then, I spend a few minutes every week calling them to request that I be removed from their list. My results using this method have been okay, but I’ve had to be vigilant in that I’ve had to call certain catalogs and organizations numerous times, to finally get off their list. It’s like mutating – when one is gone, another comes along to take its place.

UNICEF can’t seem to get the message, though. I’ve had to call repeatedly, even after the “6-8 weeks” they say it will take. And then this morning I had this exchange with a passively aggressive woman on the front lines with UNICEF, who either needed a break or another line of work all together. I would like to say that in my younger, hungrier college days, I worked as a CSR and I know how difficult it can be. Thank god I don’t have to do that anymore, but that’s also why I always try to be especially pleasant when I call them.

Me: Good morning, I’m calling to get my name off your mailing list, please.

CSR: That’s no problem, ma’am, I’ll just need your phone number.

Me: Umm… no. You can’t have my phone number.

CSR: Well, we NEED your phone number in order to take you off the list.

Me: (nicely, really!) I prefer not to give out my phone number, it’s an unlisted number. I’ve never given my number to UNICEF nor am I donor. I’m not asking to be taken off a phone list, I’m asking to be taken off a mailing list.

CSR: (obviously annoyed) Well then, I will have to take ALL your information.

Me: That’s fine, the address is 555 Main Street…(pause pause pause pause) Hello?

CSR: (obviously even more annoyed) ZIP code, I need to start with your ZIP code.

Me: Oh… 95555.. (pause pause pause – I have NO idea what info she needs next) Ummm Hello?

CSR: (heavy sigh of exasperation) ADDRESS, now I need your ADDRESS

Me: 555 Main Street (pause pause pause) Hello?

CSR: NAME, I need your NAME

Me. Trixare4kids…

CSR: (interrupting) You have to SPELL IT.

Me: yeah, okay, T-R-I-X…

CSR: Is that P as in Peter or T as in Tom?

Me: T as in Tom.. I don’t have an uncommon first or last name, but this went on for awhile ended up having to spell out my entire name: Tango, Roger, India, X-ray…. (I’m not kidding)

So she very grudgingly took all my information, I felt I was being punished for not wanting to give out my phone number, and I got the standard “6-8 weeks” line. I also got the feeling that she wasn’t really taking my information down. Don’t ask me how I know this, but can’t you just tell? Either that or she hung up with me and hit the “delete” key. That’s okay, I’ll just cheerfully call back next week when I get another 35 pieces of paper stuffed in an envelope begging for money.

I’m wondering if anyone else has been asked to cough up a phone number to get off a mailing list, it just doesn’t make sense. Or is there something I’m missing?

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  1. gte910h says:

    Here is how you get of mailing lists, and how to stop people from mailing you (My fiancee does charity direct mail). Legally, the are supposed to take you off these lists at your request, and most will.

    DON’T call. Take a mailing. Take the form you’re supposed to be using to give money/order the magazine, etc. This is called your “Reply Device”. Follow the instructions below.

    First off, if you want to stop getting mail from other people, take a sharpie, making sure to not write on barcodes or your information, and write “DO NOT SHARE MY NAME”. This will stop the organization that already has your name from giving your info to another company. You can do this even if you want to keep getting mailings from one list. I personally recommend you do this for all magazines as well.

    Secondly, if you want to be removed from the list, just write “REMOVE ME FROM YOUR LIST” on the Reply Device and mail it in *exactly* like you were doing beforehand. It WILL get to someone, usually someone very able to remove you from a list.

    Things to keep in mind while doing this: While the person who gets the reply device will have the power to remove you from the list, they most certainly don’t work for the charity/business that has been mailing you. They are a lower level peon in an Ad firm, or an hourly worker at a mail processing plant. Don’t harrangue them about maillings or send crazy literature creeping them out. The person reading your mail is not the one making descisions on wether or not to send you mail, or how the charity operates.

    If you have real comments for the organization, write your request (such as “REMOVE ME FROM YOUR LIST”) on the reply device, and include a letter “For ____” where blank is the charity. The request for removal from the mailing list will happen at the appropriate level, and the letter will *also* make it to someone at the charity.

    Give the process about 9 weeks to work. That’s about 2.5 weeks for the mailings to arriave at a post office, 1 week for the bank to remove and process all payments, 1.5 weeks for the documents to be “Caged” (matched up with the deposit information from the bank, this is where your “non monetary reply device” will be separated out), 2 weeks for the high level person to remove your name from the mailing list. The extra couple weeks are the amount of time a mailing spends at “mailing vendor”. This is a company you give a list of names and addresses, a document to send to all those names and addresses. The mailing company will then send the document to each of the names. As this process takes a couple weeks, you have to allow for your name to have been send out before they recieved the request to remove you from the list.

    It might seem eaiser to just call, but you’re not calling the people who have the power to remove you from the list. If you use the reply device, it gets very reliably to the person who can take you off the list, and will.

    Also, if you only like when a charity/business sends a certain thing in the year, but not all the other mailings, tell them to only send you the certain mailings you like. Most are set up to easily accomodate this.

    *Caveat*: While I abhor the spam I get from investor’s business daily as much as the next guy, I *would* encourage you to allow charities to share your name with other charities at least. I have wormed my way on the list of intriguing charities out there. While something like UNICEF may not float your boat, there are very specialized charities that can appeal to you.

    Did you know there are charities where you can buy a sack of baby chicks for families in poor conditions [http://www.heifer.org/]? Manual Peanut deshellers can be sent to african families to allow them to go to bed at night full (shelling enough peanuts to feed oneself for a day is a time consuming task) [http://www.fullbellyproject.org]? Pay for cleft pallet operations (which are very affordable) to third world children that would otherwise go around disfigured all their life [http://www.smiletrain.org/]?

    –Michael

  2. trixare4kids says:

    Thanks for that great information, Michael. I’ll start using the direct reply method and see how that works and report back in a couple of months.

    About allowing charities to sell my name as a method to find out about interesting charities: No. I simply will NOT consider it. I’m glad if that’s what works for you, but it doesn’t work for me at all and here’s why.

    1) I really, really, really do not want 40 pounds of wasted junk mail in my recycling bin every week. It’s sad and depressing to see all the wasted resources.

    2) I’m NOT going to donate using this method, so I feel that I’m helping them out too. By getting me off the lists, they can better spend that money actually helping the people/place/animal/thing that actually needs help or reaching out to those who will actually respond to their direct mailings.

    3) I actually give to charity in that I donate 3-5 hours per week (sometimes more) to a local organization that’s doing work that I care about. I think is a lot more valuable that the $20 cash here or there that I could actually cough up when the budget allows. If anyone is in the spirit, a good place to find volunteer opportunities is http://www.voa.org/

    4) Choosing a charity is a highly personal and individual thing. If I asked the general Consumerist readership, “who do you give to and why?” then we’d have 40 different answers for 40 different personal reasons. I don’t need direct mailings to tell me about interesting charities, I can look them up online at places like: http://www.guidestar.org/ or http://www.charitywatch.org/ or http://www.charitynavigator.org

    But.. ask me how I really feel about it.

  3. TedSez says:

    Thanks a lot for your very useful post, Michael.

    I have to disagree with your last comment, however. Many of us have had the experience of donating to a certain charity, then getting a nonstop barrage of mailings from that charity and a dozen others. Not only is it off-putting, but you end up wondering just how much of your donations are going toward sending out more mailings rather than toward helping people.

    There are many excellent websites set up to help people looking to donate decide which charities best fit their goals. Just Google “charity ratings” to start.

  4. gte910h says:

    > you end up wondering just how much of
    > your donations are going toward sending
    > out more mailings rather than toward
    > helping people

    Think of money used to send mailings like the money used by a entrepenuer to fly to the city a venture capitalist is in and pitch them on their idea. Yup, the plain trip didn’t make the enrepenuer money, but the money they get from the plane trip DOES let them make money. It is a little counterintuitive, but it really DOES make more money go to the cause at hand if the charity asks more often.

    By all means, if you’d be happy to hear from say UNICEF once a year, or Smiletrain, 2 times a year, but no more, they *want* to know that. If you really don’t want to hear from other charities, tell them that. If I didn’t feel that is really the solution some people want, I wouldn’t have told you how to do it.

    While it doesn’t cost them much to send out a letter, it does costs them. If they can still talk to you occasionally, yet on those occasions you’re more likely to give, you’ve just made it cheaper for them to help people.

    And on costs, it varies on volumes but it ranges from a $0.10 to $0.50 to process a gift (for most of these operations). Credit cards obviously cost more, but if it’s between a CC donation and no donation, they’re happy to pay visa their portion.

    To send a solicitation, it costs $0.35-$2.00 per person sent to. This is including postage, which can be over %50 of the cost of the item. The more expensive end is when they send heavy info packets or things like labels. They only send the more expensive things to people who have high likelyhood of giving.

    That may seem expensive, but it’s the cheapest way to get money to fulfill their mission. While overhead may be personally distaseful, it’s a necessary evil to accomplish their good works. If they didn’t do this, they would take in MUCH less money a year.

    While things like that might not make you personally give more, they *do* make the population as a whole give more. This is a topic they research and use when making their decisions on what to send out. This is one of the main reasons your colleges send you mail/email all the time. They are mercilous cost cutters, and have made me trust them.

    I’m sharing this info because once I realize I’m choosing to receive all the mailers I do, I’m aware of my desire to give.

    –Michael

  5. I suppose we all have to start donating money to Nestlé now.

    Bummer.