Friday, June 17, 2005

Uncharitable Awakening

My phone rang at about 9:30 this morning. For most people, that's a reasonably sociable hour, but I'm a night owl. My friends and family know never to call me before noon unless there's a killer asteroid heading not merely for earth, but specifically for San Francisco. So who called me at 9:30 this morning? The American Cancer Society, a charity whose goals I support, but to which I will not link because I'm annoyed that they called me at 9:30 in the morning.

I was tremendously pleased when the federal government finally created the national do-not-call list. Telemarketing calls to my home have trailed off to almost zero. Unfortunately, the do-not-call registry has two explicit exemptions for unsolicited cold calling: political campaigns and charities. The unreasonable reasoning is that somehow their First Amendment right to speak freely trumps my privacy right to not be bothered.

I did cold calling for a political campaign once, and I will never, ever do it again. I will do almost any other support work for a campaign I believe in, but I will not work the phone bank. When I did (back in 1988), several people told me, "If you people don't stop calling me, I'm going to vote for the other guy, just for spite!" I went so far as to re-register to vote without listing my phone number, but they just looked me up in the criss-cross directory. I re-registered to vote listing my phone number as 555-0123 (note: proper fictitious phone numbers in the U.S. must be in the range 555-0100 to 555-0199), but again they found me. What do I have to do to say "DO NOT CALL ME!"?

Let's look, then, at the American Cancer Society, a fine charity that does important work. If they send me a solicitation in my dead-tree mail, I will consider donating. However, I do not make charitable donations over the phone, most especially not on an incoming call. It's not particularly prudent to give your credit card number to anyone whose identity you cannot positively verify.

Commercial telemarketers are required to screen all of their calls against the national do-not-call registry. Politicians and charities are not required to do so, but they could if they choose. So why not choose? Is there really that much money to be made in calling people who have specifically gone out of their way to tell you that they do not want to be called? Personally, I'd be fine with having three separate do-not-call lists, so that those who want to fix the potholes or cure disease can still get those calls without the vacation timeshares in Burkina Faso. But until that happens, I think that responsible charities and political campaigns should voluntarily honor the do-not-call list.

It just makes sense: don't call people who have gone out of their way to tell you that they do not want to be called.

By the way, my response to the American Cancer Society this morning was quite G-rated. I simply said, "Please place me on your do-not-call list," and hung up. The person who called me doesn't decide whom she's supposed to call, so it's not her fault. My anger is focused more upon the people who gave her that list, and rolling over and going back to sleep was more important to me than tying up one operator on a wild goose chase.