This is an Unacceptable Fundraising Method

The Consumerist is reporting that NRA trying to raise money by sending people unsolicited DVDs, then trying to convince them that they need to pay for them.  I’ve seen other interest groups do this scam as well, but I’ve never seen any go so far as to send follow up e-mails demanding payment, or demanding the DVD be sent back.

This is not in any way an acceptable method of fund raising, and now that they’ve been called out by Consumerist, a very well regarded blog with far more reach than any of the gun blogs, I sincerely hope they will resolve this to the satisfaction of its members in a timely manner.

Bitter tells me she’s talked to someone at NRA about this, and they are looking into it.  Every public advocacy group does fund raising, because the money they get from memberships isn’t enough to keep the organization going.  A lot of folks complain pretty heavily about NRA’s fundraising, and largely because they aren’t members of other public advocacy groups, they don’t realize it’s typical practice.  In fact, a lot of groups are worse — far worse.  Join the ACLU and they’ll sell your name to every other leftist cause out there, who will all then beg you regularly for money.

But there are ethical limits on the ways funds should be raised, and this crosses it.  Sending an unsolicited DVD out and asking someone to pay for it or send it back is bad enough.  Continuing to demand payment is unforgivable.  If NRA loses members over this, they will have deserved to lose them.  This needs to stop.  Now.

34 thoughts on “This is an Unacceptable Fundraising Method”

  1. I don’t think this is something new with the NRA. I joined several years ago and was sent a DVD about proper handling and shooting for handguns. The DVD was quite professionally done and informative as well, but it was totally unsolicited and sent to me without my request. In that case it is always free. The publisher sent me several friendly notices asking me to either pay for the product or send it back. I never responded. The final notice said something along the lines of “I can’t believe you are keeping my DVD and not paying me for it.”. Well, I didn’t ask for it, you sent it to me, I won’t pay to send it back. Scam? I’m not sure I’d call it that. Improper marketing maybe, but not a scam.


  2. Federal law entitles recipients of unsolicited goods received by mail to treat the goods as absolute gifts. So not only is this a really obnoxious way of fundraising, it’s also stupid, in that if the begging-for-payment doesn’t work the NRA is still out the cost of the DVD (which is presumably greater than the cost of a normal fundraising mailer).

  3. DVDs are remarkably cheap once you buy the rights to it. But either way, I would have no problem with “If you like this DVD, please consider sending us a donation to help cover the costs of bringing it to you. If not, keep it as a free gift.”

    The whole scam is designed to make you think you’re being a scofflaw by now paying up. The reality is, it’ll cost you just about as much to send it back to them as the DVD costs. It’s a total scam.

  4. Should this DVD ever make its way to my mailbox, my response will be simple – the NRA will be more than welcome to having it back… in itty bitty pieces, along with my membership card in a similar condition.

    I have tolerated my parents reminding me over and over and over again that the NRA harassed them by phone for over six months trying to find me… but these kind of tactics are positively intolerable.

  5. I don’t think it’s the DVD that’s worth getting upset over. I think it’s the shady fake “bills” they are sending out. That, in my opinion, is justifiable for people who receive them to quit if NRA doesn’t resolve this quickly. I feel terrible saying that, but fake bills fall into the scam territory and it cannot be defended.

  6. Except that the DVD is part and parcel of the entire travesty. Like I said, if they want it back under the threat of illicit “charges”, they can have it, along with the other bit of plastic they sent me.

  7. If I recall, it was the typical “Here’s a DVD you didn’t ask for. Please send us money for it. If you don’t want it, send it back to us in this envelope.”

    I don’t approve of that method of fund raising, but NRA is hardly the only group that’s done that. SAF has done it too. But I’ve never heard of follow ups treating you like a scofflaw for not paying for it.

  8. You’re not paying postage to send them back. There’s a postage-paid envelope that’s sent with the “bills”.

    Just wanted to clear that up…I agree with everything else you’ve said. I was one of the recipients of the DVD several months ago, and I’m irritated as shit by all of the near-threatening “bills” I’ve been getting for something I didn’t order in the first place, and wouldn’t have ordered if I’d had a choice. :-P

  9. I have had 2 letters since the initial DVD arrived… I don’t remember much about the first, but the second one was “bill like” and ended up in our bill pile (my S.O. is also an NRA member and thought it was a legit bill) until I threw it out.

    The tactic isn’t that bad, much better than public radio!

  10. I don’t think I’ve gotten a follow up “bill” but there’s a good chance I just haven’t gotten to it yet.

  11. I got that DVD as well, and the documentation with it was along the lines of if you liked it, please pay us for it, or we would appreciate it if you sent it back so as to pass it along to someone else.

    I’ve never gotten around to watching it yet, and I got the first “bill” for it. Going into the hey-I-didn’t-order-this catagory, as I know copying DVDs are probably cheaper than the return postage they’ve sent along twice, not to mention repackaging it into someone else’s name and sending it, and MORE return postage afterwards. If you think about it like that, I did them a favor by not returning it!

  12. The NRA hasn’t pulled this on me, but “Guns & Ammo” did and I found it very obnoxious. If I hadn’t already been aware of the law regarding unsolicited items sent through the mail I would have sent the DVD back–along with a note canceling my subscription. As it was, it just left a bad taste in my mouth.

    My hope is that a marketing subcontractor for the NRA did this without checking, and that the NRA will tell them to stop it ASAP. Even better, the NRA would send postcards to everyone asking them to keep the DVD and apologizing for the pseudo-bills.

  13. I got a DVD on the history of the worlds greatest battle rifles. It was like a history channel show or something. It came a couple of years ago, along with a commemorative bullet from the NRA. They had an invoice with it that I never paid – if you read it, it was one of those If you like it please send us $$ solicitations – but you had to read the small print. I didn’t send anything, and recieve a couple of other requests for $$$ – but just ignored them.

    I not so offended by it, as I think it makes for bad PR and plays into the hands of antis.

  14. I disapproved of it when they pulled the same stunt with a VHS recording sometime late last century, and it is still as despicable now. The DVD was sent to my house, too, and like Sebastian, I may have a “bill” somewhere as well, but I wouldn’t know.

    I know that in both cases I operate within the law as BC points out. I didn’t ask them to send it, I sure am not going to take any time sending it back.* If the DVD is anything like the VHS, it is probably worth watching, but I refuse to encourage this type of dishonest tactic by sending a donation in response to it. I am certainly not about to quit the NRA over the matter, but will gladly lend my voice in support of encouraging the NRA to cease this dubious practice.

    * I liken it to a removal request from a spammer. I didn’t request to be placed on a spammer’s email list, and I certainly am not going to legitimize his spam, by using an usubscribe link. (I am referring to actual spam, not merely unsubscribing from a list I joined.)

    A little online searching yielded this gem: “it is illegal for a company that sends you unordered merchandise to follow the mailing with a bill or dunning communication.”

    The NRA may not only be operating in bad taste, but in violation of the law.

    Title 39, USC, Section 3009 is listed as the relevant statute for those inclined to investigate further.

  15. The NRA did this back around 2000 or 2001 with video cassettes. I received 3-4 requests to pay for it. I still have a DVD that Guns&Ammo did that with in 2006.

  16. Anything that is sent to you unsolicited is yours to keep, plain and simple. They can scream bloody blue murder that you send it back or pay up but they are full of it and you don’t have to do a thing. The NRA did this to me a few years ago with a DVD on the Greatest Guns of the All Time or some such thing. I told them thanks very much and now would you kindly run along and go F%#* yourselves and leave me alone. I never heard a word after that. The US Postal Laws are very clear on the point.

  17. It’s ridiculous, but yes, they’ve done it for a long time. I just recently threw out a VHS tape I’ve had for years from exactly that gambit. I checked their little “No thank you, I don’t love freedom and my daily coffee is so important to me that I can’t spare .003 cents per day to stop the Clintons from cutting little puppies with big knives” box and mailed it back, as I recall.

  18. I got a follow-up letter that had another return envelope (I had lost the first). I put the DVD back in that and I’ve not heard from them since.

    I agree that this is out of line. The NRA pushes its luck as it is with the constant bombardment of mail. Trying to bill for unsolicited goods is over the line.

  19. The NRA did almost the same thing to me several years ago, minus the follow up demands for payment. But the initial package did say to pay or send it back. I thought it was a pretty low trick at the time.

  20. The NRA did this to me several years ago (more than 2, less than 10). I threw the DVD or VHS in with my other movies. I threw the “bills” in the trash. They eventually stopped bothering me. I have never actually watched the movie. I think it was on the Garand or M14.

  21. I guess I’m the sucker. I went ahead and paid for the VHS tape at the time and they sent me another and another and another………..

    The tapes are actually pretty good. Episodes of Tales of the Gun from the History Channel if I rememeber correctly. But now I have 30 or so VHS tapes that are gathering dust and that I haven’t had the heart to throw away yet.

    And yes, they do dunn you if you don’t pay for them in what they consider a timely manner. After the first time you send one back, they will leave you alone.

  22. I send donations every once in a while to the NRA-ILA, but I can’t afford to spare a whole lot. I wonder if it does any good in the long run though, because they seem to spend all the money I give them and more sending me more mailings asking for money! I don’t know if I got a DVD or not because most of the time any postal mail I get from the NRA goes directly into the trash unopened.

  23. NRA-ILA is worth giving money to. I would encourage you to continue to give. This particular fundraiser didn’t come out of ILA.

  24. This particular fundraiser raises quite a stink, doesn’t it? Well, good. Our organization(s), (NRA, GOA, ________ State Association), all need to be well above such low-brow NPR type fundraising.

    The simplest solution is in each of our hands though. Call the NRA’s “800” number for membership. Ask that your membership be coded “NO PROMOTION”. And like magic, you won’t get any more junk mail from them.

    I’ve done this to great success with my membership, as well as the three others I’ve bought as gifts for friends and new shooters.

    Do it. It works. If enough of us do it, maybe they’ll snap to a clue?

    Sunk New Dawn
    Galveston, TX

  25. NRA-ILA is without a doubt a worthy cause–I just get frustrated when I send them $20 and then get 40 pieces of mail in the following six months. Postage, paper, printing–it can’t be cheap. I wanted my $20 to go toward getting laws changed, not sending me mail.

    Thanks, Jim. That’s a great bit of information. I was actually just looking around the website to see if they had something like that.

  26. Hey, they send you stuff all the time. I got that same DVD, watched it once and send it back. To be honest it’s getting annoying because to me it seems like they are begging like a homeless man on the street.

    Being what they are they always ask for money, but that’s basically all they do but they do it with that tinge of urgency and with that alamist way of begging for money.

    I mean it must cost them quite a bit to send all that paper that goes to the recycling in the end.

  27. They wouldn’t do it if it didn’t bring in income. Basic economics. If it costs you a million dollars to do a direct mail campaign, but that campaign brings in 1.5 million in revenue… even if only 1% responded to it… you’ll do it again next time you need money.

  28. As a Benefactor Life Member, Golden Eagle, James Madision Brigade Member, EVC and Board Member – I receive anything and everything…..

    I received the DVD and never received any sort of invoice, bill or request…

    Understanding that I am biased here, but the NRA is very fiscally sound and has been audited by the best of them. We also have earned Charity Navigator’s highest rating with our foundation work…

    I would suggest that just like any other solicitation – if you don’t want to participate – send it to the circular file.

  29. The problem, Joe, is that a lot of the tactics hurt NRA’s relationship with its members. I have no doubt the money they raise from this will be well spent, but it just crosses the line to raise money this way, even if it’s perfectly legal, and the money is being well spent. There are other ways to raise money without pissing off members and consumer groups. NRA already had a reputation among people for being shameless fundraisers, and this just adds fuel to the fire.

    1. I agree with his response, Joe. It’s not like Sebastian is anti-fundraising here. I mean until this sketchy tactic was uncovered, there was a button on every page encouraging people to donate to the Civil Rights Defense Fund. Sebastian did the same himself, and he was in the middle of a pledge that qualified him for Ring of Freedom. I understand the need to raise money more than most since I actually have experience as a non-profit staffer. Yet, this goes too far into a borderline scam situation. The fake bills cross the line. (Until the situation is resolved, the donation button remains down and the pledge may need to be re-directed to a division not responsible for this program.)

      I would also disagree that it “clearly” labeled that you didn’t have to send the DVD back or send money. The way mine was packaged, I had to read to the third page. As I recall, that page was hard to read since it was actually folded into the envelope. (The return envelope was part of the letter package, so you had to pull it apart in an odd way.) In addition to the DVD, the letter was also folded up with a coin. In fact, the DVD offer was so misleading about the return that it said the coin could be considered a gift if I sent the DVD back or paid for the DVD.

      Joe, you’ve talked to members, you know the complaints about constant fundraising. If it’s already a known problem (albeit, one that is justified for raising money), why go the extra step to a promotion that is – at it’s best – on the fringes of ethical fundraising and questionably legal with the follow-up “invoices”? Really, this is something the board needs to be inquiring about. Find out exactly what’s going on, ask for a full accounting of cost-benefit analysis, and demand that the responsible division respond to Consumerist/Consumer Reports. At the very least, the responsible division needs to respond to members. You know the kind of people who are members, and is this really a practice you want to defend to an 80-year-old member who maybe can’t read the fine print or remember whether or not he paid the “bill” that keeps arriving for a DVD he may not even be able to play?

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