Monday, September 29, 2014

Coins in Direct Mail Letters

On Friday I was asked by a friend what I thought of direct mail letters from a nonprofit with a penny or two included. He explained that he recently received such a letter. I noted that I’d received such letters, and some have included a nickel, not just a penny or two.


There is evidence that including pennies and nickels will increase response rate, and thereby the number of gifts. My friend confirmed that he was not a particular supporter of the cause but had been thinking of donating to the group because of the two pennies sitting on his desk. The strategy plays to the dynamics being experienced by my fried. The appeal rests more upon appealing to the recipients’ sense of guilt more than a person’s commitment to the cause and a willingness to do something to support the cause.  Many donors will give a small gift, just large enough to satisfy their sense of guilt.  I noted that appealing to guilt is one of the reasons I’m not a fan of such letters for the organization for whom I work.  My organization should appeal to the rightness of the cause, to the need to help people in need rather than play on a person’s sense guilt. It may be a technique that fits with some organizations and their ethos, but I think it is not appropriate for my organization which is faith based and should be above appealing to guilt in such a manner.


I noted to him that while the technique does bring in more new donors and gifts, there is a substantial increase in the number of small gifts in the $5 to $20 range. The costs of “servicing” these small donors (costs of thank you letters, data storage, sending subsequent letters, etc.) over the subsequent year will often consume much of the funds received from these small donors. Additionally, as they have given out of guilt more than support for the cause, a very high number of these donors will not give again without another appeal the includes a coin or some other appeal to their guilt, and rarely do they increase the level of the giving.


I’m not a fan of this type of technique as it can readily give the impression that the organization has money to waist. My organization is a poverty faith-based organization which prides itself with being efficient with its use of resources, and often speaks to cost efficiency in various newsletters and fundraising documents. It is my opinion that including a coin in a fundraising letter undermines that the organization is careful with how it spends funds. I noted to my friend that I would be unlikely to give to a cause that is not careful with its use of resources.


I hope that any direct mail vendor my organization utilizes understands about fiscal efficiency and organizational nature and thereby would not propose the use of such a strategy even if there is evidence that it works for some organizations.


Friday, when I got home, what did I have in the mail that day? A prospecting letter with a nickel enclosed. While noting not to give to the organization, and without a second thought or feeling of guilt, the nickel went into my pocket. 

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

A Prime Case for Capital Punishment Becomes a Prime Example Against the Death Penalty

Advocates for capital punishment commonly point to horrendous murders as justification for the citizens to terminate a life of the person convicted of first degree murder. More often than not such cases involve murder of children and/or where gruesome suffering was been involved. One such case used to validate the need for capital punishment was the conviction of Henry Lee McCollum of Sabrina Buie who was raped and murdered in September 1983. 

The rationale and need to execute McCollum was sited by US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia as a prime example as a case that unquestionably supported the value of capital punishment. In addressing another Justice's questioning of the value and appropriateness of capital punishment, Justice Scalia responded that the McCollum case is one preeminent case “cries out for punishment”, and that punishment being capital punishment.


Henry Lee “Buddy” McCollum, 19 at the time Buie was murdered, along with his younger half brother (age 15) were arrested and convicted of murdering eleven year old Buie. The police were so certain that McCollum and Brown committed the crime that while McCollum and Brown were in jail, another rape and murder that took place in the same area less than a month later, and with marked similarity as the earlier murder, were never viewed as connected to the Buie murder. The man who lived near where the Buie murder occurred was arrested for the second murder, and later convicted, yet even with similar MOs neither the police nor the District Attorney ever considered that the two murders could be connected. The police and the District Attorney never reconsidered that Buie could be murdered by anyone other than Buddy McCollum and his half brother because they had confessions from the two men.


Though the DA and police had confessions from the two teens, other than them knowing the girl and being seen with her, and having no alibi as to their whereabouts at the time of the crime, there was no direct evidence that the teens committed the crime.

What was not considered was that both young men are intellectually handicapped…McCollum’s IQ was between 60 and 69, and that as both were intellectually handicapped, they could easily be led and misled by others. They were likely terrified in being arrested and jailed. Clearly they lacked the capacity to understand their Miranda Rights or the nature of the crime they were being accused of committing. If people with IQs of 125 common police interrogation tactics that can confusing and challenging, what does this say about these two men and their “confessions” that took place without legal representation present both before or during confession. The claim by the police that the confessions were true must be considered with a high level of askance, but the DA's office didn't hold such a view. They had the confessions that would give them the needed conviction and increase their batting rate for convictions.  


Despite the other murder, lack of direct evidence and questionable confession, the case moved forward resulting in McCollum and Brown being convicted and with McCollum receiving the death penalty. This case was the first time North Carolina jurors had ever recommended the death penalty for anyone who evidenced mental retardation, let alone with an IQ as low as McCollum. Also this was the first time that capital punishment was recommended for anyone under the age of twenty at the time of the crime. Though the trial judge acknowledged that McCollum lacked the capacity to understand the crime and the proceedings, he supported the jurors recommendation of death. 

The prosecutor and the jury noted that there were two compelling reasons for the citizens of North Carolina to remove Mr. McCollum from breathing on this, that he killed Buie to keep her going to the police (a conjectured conclusion), and two, the especially heinous nature of the murder and suffering Buie experienced. Since, concurring with the jury and judge, the advocates of capital punishment have sited the McCollum case as a prime example as a just conviction and penalty. They have argued that McCollum confessed to the crime, that the court carefully examined the evidence which definitively points to McCollum and Brown as the murders, and that it is a case where the State and the people of North Carolina justly convicted them and McCollum deserves to be expunged from the earth.  


While there were many who questioned whether the ultimate punishment was warranted given McCollum’s intellectual capacity, and questioned the validity of the confession, for the most part their arguments were dismissed as being of little consequence. Even US Supreme Court Justice Scalia in his unabashed certainty and rightness of his views held firmly that the system had got the case correct and that capital punishment of McCollum was more than justified.     


To the frustration of many death penalty advocates, McCollum was not been executed as scheduled for since 2006 a series of lawsuits in North Carolina have blocked any capital punishment executions from being carried out in the state. But for those successful lawsuits, Buddy McCollum would have been executed years ago. Advocates for capital punishment were working to remove those blocks with Mr. McCollum being one of the first on the list to be executed. At least his name would have been on that list until September 2014.


Thirty years after being arrested, McCollum and his half-brother are free men, thanks to DNA evidence on a piece of preserved evidence. The DNA evidence points to the man arrested for other murder as being Buie's murderer too. Suddenly, the case which was viewed with absolute certainty as being gotten right and execution justified. We now know that if McCollum had been executed that the people of this nation would have executed an innocent other words we the people through our appointed officials would have committed willful murder.

Any human judicial system is highly flawed. The judicial system of the United States is a highly flawed system. Our system is fraught by politics, inequities, and inappropriate economic and racial prejudices. It is filled with snap conclusions by police and the DAs, flawed theories, police investigations that ignore evidence and twisting of evidence to fit a theory. It is a system that too often places value upon conviction and vindictive punishment than upon the seeking of truth and restorative justice. The failings of such a system are so evident that even men and women like Justice Scalia who possess such vast knowledge of the law, exude such confident dogmatic reasoning and judgment can be so wrong. 

Capital punishment has a finality to it that should give us pause. For me, Justice Scalia's citing the McCollum case as substantiating the value of capital punishment now serves as an argument against. This is not a case where the system eventually got it right for if the system had continued as it should have continued, today McCollum would be dead. The system on so many levels got it wrong.  But for factors outside this case McCollum would not be alive today for us to acknowledge the injustice he experienced. The system is flawed and it failed in this case. 


A nation's views on capital punishment is one of the clarion declarations of nation’s values, not "the nation" in a general sense, but the values of its citizens like you and I, and with those who walk our streets, work beside us and with whom we recreate. The time to rethink the utilization of capital punishment dawned long ago.