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Money & Ethics

Freebies That Charities Send in the Mail

You're under no moral obligation to pay for something you didn't request.

Q: I sometimes feel guilty when I keep and use little gifts from charities—gummed address labels, bookmarks, coasters, etc.—that are enclosed in their solicitation mailings without sending them a donation in return. Should I?

Charities enclose these little gifts because their direct-mail testing shows that they work—that is, they boost donations. The charity wants you to feel obligated, or at least grateful. But you’re under no moral obligation to pay for something you didn’t request, even if you keep it. Send a donation only if you agree with the cause and would do so even in the absence of the gift.

Have a money-and-ethics question you’d like answered in this column? Write to editor in chief Knight Kiplinger at ethics@kiplinger.com.