Should I Cash a Christian Charity’s Check?

My desk has a drawer full of free address labels, pens, and other cheap gimmicks sent by charities who hope that sending a gift would make the recipient of their letters feel obligated to give something back. (It doesn’t; I plan my giving in advance and never respond to solicitations.) But a letter I got in the mail this week was a new gambit:

This mailing came from an evangelical Christian charity (I know – bad targeting on their part). Enclosed with the letter, as you can see, was a $2 check. The accompanying letter (front page, back page) said that the check was real and that I can cash it, but that they “really hoped” I wouldn’t, and would instead send back some money to support their work. Below is a scan of another page from the mailer, highlighting the poverty they try to alleviate:

* Thirty-seven counties in eastern Kentucky are classified as “economically distressed” and rank in the poorest 10% of counties nationally.

* Nearly 26% of Kentucky children under age 5 lived below the poverty line in 2006.

* Over 602,000 people in Kentucky use food stamps to buy food every month. That’s 14% of the state population.

These are certainly distressing statistics, and there’s no doubt that poverty is an enormous problem in America (which makes you wonder why Kentucky overwhelmingly votes for politicians who promise to slash the social safety net if elected – I wonder if any of the intended audience of this letter made that connection).

That said, I’m not going to send a donation to this organization. Religious charities almost always expose people to unwarranted proselytizing along with whatever help they give, so I’d be paying to support a message I don’t believe in (and then, inevitably, proselytizers would cite the work of these groups as evidence that atheists are immoral and only Christians engage in charity). I always give instead to secular charities doing the same or comparable work. For example, I usually give to Feeding America for poverty and food insecurity in the U.S.

The real dilemma is, what should I do with the check?

I could cash it, certainly. They sent it to me freely, and I didn’t agree to any terms in exchange. I have no obligation to them. And if the letter had been requesting support for a purely religious objective, I definitely would.

But it seems that this charity, even if they have a religious mission I don’t agree with, does some worthwhile work. (Here’s their Charity Navigator page.) I’m not going to support them, but I don’t know if it would be wrong to actively take money away from them. The amount is small, but it’s the principle that matters. What would you do if you were in my place?

Anti-Vaccination Fever Rages On
Friday Night Music: First Aid Kit
Weekend Coffee: February 22
What’s Behind the Appeal of ISIS?
About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, City of Light, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Nicole Introvert

    Maybe mail the check back with a letter explaining that all of the money used in their direct mail campaign would be better used as a donation to their own cause. I understand the tote bag or address labels… but the check just seems much more guilt-laden than other tchotchkes. Not to mention the whole vibe of, “If you don’t donate… God is watching you!!!” Let them know that their spiritual extortion is dishonest.

  • RR

    “Religious charities almost always expose people to unwarranted proselytizing”

    Any links/data to back that up, or is this merely an impression? My church provides routinely provides healthcare in rural areas of Mexico with no proselytizing. Not exactly what you might expect from a Baptist church based in an area which voted 75% for Romney.

    As for the check, the best response is to simply do nothing. Certainly religious-based charities are not the only organizations from which you receive solicitations which try to use guilt as a motivation.

  • Lacuna

    I would cash it and donate the money to a non-religious charity. Then I would drop them a note letting them know about the charity their money supported, and why I did what I did – politely. Chances are, if it’s not a religious charity, I’ll be taken off their mailing list, I won’t be bothered again AND their money will have gone to a more worthwhile charity.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I’m with Lacuna on this one. The Charity that sent you the check might be doing some good, but it would be with strings attached. The charity of your choice, or perhaps the Foundation Beyond Belief, could do more good with it. I’d redirect the funds.

  • L.Long

    1st the check is non-solicited mail. Anything sent is yours. Cash the check and spend it on something they would consider sinful…like helping some gays.
    Now part of this is they can ask you to send it back because ???? whatever reason???? at that point you tell them that they can have it back when THEY supply the transport/Communication costs. Now if you want to really twik their noses, send them a letter saying thanks for the money as it allowed you to buy condoms for a gay couple! or something similar.
    If they REALLY want to help the poor in that area they can help get the schools to teach REAL science, pressure the gov’mint to give incentives to business to move in, they can set up job search assistance to help the kids leaving school to get jobs, many many things better then this BS. Yes these people do do some good,but mostly they want more people under their religious thumb not to really help the situation because they only way to really help is to admit that most of their BS is BS.

  • Jack Waldron

    Cash the check. Give a homeless person 2 bucks. I feel better just thinking about it!

  • Neosimian Sapiens

    I live in Eastern Kentucky and I didn’t get one of those checks. I’m dirt poor these days (due to health issues, not lack of resolve). Nonetheless, I wouldn’t cash that check. After all, if it bounced it would cost me a lot.

    Like you, Mr. Lee, I am baffled by the way that people in Eastern Kentucky pull for the very people who want to “slash to social safety net.” Their stance seems no more reasoned than their stance on religion (mostly: various flavors of Baptist). It’s my impression that a major part of their voting is swayed by the way the Democrats and Republicans line up vis-a-vis religion and guns.

  • David Hart

    My proposal: cash the cheque,* then send double the amount to whatever secular charity does the closest work to what these people do. Tell them you’ve done so, and that you object to the emotionally manipulative scheme they’re engaged in, but that they can be confident that they’ve actually caused more than their $2 to go to support the sort of work they say they support.

    *Yes, we spell it like that in the UK. Y’all are just going to have to live with it :-)

  • Steve Bowen

    On first reading I was totally with Lacuna and the rest. But on reflection it would probably be a cheap shot that would have no impact on them or their cheesy tactics. If I was you I’d file it in the round basket and forget about it.

  • Radi

    I’ve been the target of these things for a while now – they start off with a penny, and move up to $2, and back again to the penny and so forth. I’ve also been repulsed by the guilt factor involved in this type of unsolicited mailing – hell, I get really irritated with the people who say “send us $20 and we’ll send you back something worth $15+mailing cost”. I’d much rather just see them use the entire amount to do whatever good they are doing. This is the flip side of the guilt-factor-mailing – the greed-factor-mailing. And I do wish they would STOP with the mailing labels, little notepads, bookmarks, etc – if I want mailing labels, I’ll design and print them myself, thankyouverymuch!

    Regardless, I also do plan all my giving throughout the year – except for Feeding America, who I always send what I can, each time they send me a request, even though I also have a monthly contribution going in to them (via my employer, and the matching program to double my individual contribution), and volunteer for them throughout the year – so all of this crap gets sent to the shredder, THEN the round filing bin. What I mainly object to with the notepads and mailing labels is the risk of identity theft, if you just throw away the notepads thinking they are so much crap. But look at them, and you might see your FULL name, address, telephone number and whatever other info they have on you, so each page of the damned notepad has to be shredded individually. And there are the charities that oh-so-NOT-helpfully pre-print your name and address on the return envelope, so there’s yet another thing to have to shred.

    I get really annoyed with all the unsolicited mail I have to shred (because I don’t like handing over my info to anyone who likes to dumpster dive, not because I have any illusions that it will keep especially cops and the like from accessing whatever I’ve shredded), because my local trash utility does not accept paper from shredders in the recycle bin, so all the paper goes into the landfill – guess they don’t want to deal with the plastic shreds from people shredding CDs, credit cards, etc.

    Anyway, there’s my rant for the day!

  • Mieke

    Last time I got one of these (in Austria) it had 25 cents affixed to the letter instead of a check that will expire in 90 days. Things like that just make me angry (and yes, I spent the 25 cents…), but 95% of my elderly patients feel guilty enough (becauxe of an unsollicited gift!) to donate money. So screw them, or at least write back to explain why you find their action unethical.

  • Beth

    As a Christian and someone who has worked in the fundraising arm of several non-profits, I am reluctant to call the organization that sent that check either Christian or a charity. Church-based charities rarely send checks to get donations. The whole thing smells of scam to me. If you could find budget details on this “charity” you would mostly likely find high administrative salaries and large fundraising costs. They might not even be non-profit.

    Also, most mainline denominations provide funding to education, medical, housing, food and disaster relief programs, so strings attached.

    I suggest doing some research and finding an organization that gives most of it’s donations to the actual people being served. Then cash the check and give it to them. Or just buy yourself a cup of coffee, knowing you are depriving scammers of a little more cash.

  • ANDY

    give it to a rival charity….

  • Lausten North

    Recycle it. It’s bad marketing. If you cash it, you will likely be flagged in their database and just get more of these moral dilemmas or worse. I would rather you ignored it, and hopefully they see their poor response rate and realize what a dumb idea this is. If you cash it, you are taking advantage of dumbness or stepping into their web. If they’re just dumb, I’d also agree with the using of that $2 in some way that gave it value.

  • Schaden Freud

    I agree with Beth, I detect a whiff of scam here.

  • L.Long

    If you cash it, you will likely be flagged in their database and just get more of these moral dilemmas……
    Reminds me of the man in Alaska that would send back all the pre-posted cards he got in the mail so that he would get a mountain of spam mail. He then used this mail in his stove to heat his shack thru the winter. Then throw the ash over his snow covered land and was scattered by the wind to be fertilizer in in the spring.
    Don’t know if true but sounds like it should be. And I also do the same as I use the junk mail as fire starter in the fire place and as fuel for my dragon in the back yard (heating furnace for the house and water). So I would cash the check and the more junk mail the less I wood I have to cut.

  • The Letter D

    “What would you do if you were in my place?”

    I would literally toss it in the trash without a second thought. I probably never would have opened it in the first place. In fact, I think this is the first time I’ve ever said or written these words: “It’s possible you may be overthinking this.” I… I feel… uck.

    But since you’re giving it a second thought, here are my two thoughts:
    1) When I was looking for part-time work on craigslist while finishing up my degree, I almost got a gig working as a Bible proofreader. I swear I am not making this up. After taking the test and being responded to, I found out the company’s name, and it turns out that they’re the new name of another company that was mildly famous for not paying their employees at all. I’m willing to do monk work, but not for monk pay.
    2) When I was looking for part-time work on craigslist while finishing up my degree, I almost got suckered by a scam where they tell you to cash a check and then forward most of it and only keep a little for yourself. The check sure *looked* legit, though (turns out, it was one o’ them “high qualitee” forgeries), and I even asked a teller, who told me that if it was bad it either wouldn’t go through or would be reversed in “a couple days.” So I deposited it and waited… ten days later, it bounced. It cost me $10 for depositing a fraudulent check.

    Conclusion: if they’re lying, and I wouldn’t put it past ‘em, then it could actually cost you more money to try to cash the check. So *definitely* pitch it.

  • ewok_wrangler

    How about signing it and sending the signed check itself as a donation to, e.g., the SSA? Then they can cash it.

  • GCT


    …I am reluctant to call the organization that sent that check either Christian …

    No true Scotsman.

    Also, most mainline denominations provide funding to education, medical, housing, food and disaster relief programs, so strings attached.

    Except for the proselytizing they also do…oh yeah, and this:

  • Jenny

    When I get religious mail, it automatically gets shredded without opening. (Well, except when they include rosaries and decorative coins. Gotta throw that crap in the trash can first.)

  • Yawn

    I’m with Lacuna. Redirect it to somewhere you know it will be worthwhile. (But maybe photoshop a couple more zeroes to the cheque before you cash it).

  • Rieux

    I agree with Lausten North. I don’t think there’s any moral concern about cashing the check, and “I gave your $2 to the SSA (or whatever)” would be a kind of poetic justice. Still, it seems entirely possible to me that cashing it for any purpose will get you placed on various lists for more, and more obnoxious, solicitations.

  • Rieux

    Very nice links, GCT.

  • Alejandro

    Dude…is two dollars. I don’t know how much money you make but I would not bother to get out of my house for two dollars, much less going to a bank and cash a check.

  • Adam Lee

    Thanks, everyone, for your suggestions. I do like the idea of cashing the check and donating the equivalent amount to a secular charity. I’m not really worried that it will put me on their mailing list – they already have my address, and honestly, I get enough junk mail already that a slight uptick won’t make any difference. If anything, I would think that cashing the check will mark me as a poor prospect to avoid in the future.

    The comment that gave me the most pause was The Letter D’s. If the check is bad, despite the letter’s promises to the contrary, then I certainly don’t want to get hit with penalty fees for trying to cash it. But D, it doesn’t seem as if this letter fits the blueprint of the classic advance-fee fraud: as you said, those are usually for larger amounts, and they weren’t asking me to wire any money, the classic sign of a scam. In any case, the charity appears to be legitimate, with a Charity Navigator page and everything.

    I think I’ll file it to cash the next time I’m at the bank, and donate that same amount to the Secular Student Alliance or Foundation Beyond Belief. Hey, it’s not much, but every dollar counts. Thanks for all the advice!

  • Adam Lee

    Update on this: I went to the bank on Friday, since I had some other checks to cash anyway. To my surprise, the ATM at my bank (which is normally very good at scanning even hand-written checks) didn’t recognize this as a legitimate check. I could go to a different branch with tellers and see if they’ll take it there, but at this point it hardly seems worth the effort. I may just recycle it and give the extra $2 to a good secular organization anyway. :)

  • athom

    I would cash it and give it to a secular not do profit, hope it do not bounce. I would the write them back and thank them for their contribution towards hinge or disease without the gods often thanked do charitable work.

  • Calladus

    Find a new secular non-profit. Frame the check, put a title under it that says, “Our First Donation”, and present it to the new non-profit as a gift to hang on their wall.