What is the Olive Cooke tragedy?

November 30, 2018

In 2015, the world lost Olive Cooke. Being a North American, I had never heard of this lady. She died by suicide, choosing to jump off a bridge in the UK.

Who was Olive Cooke and why am I writing about it? Olive was a poppy seller and at 93-years old was a cancer survivor. It was reported that Olive committed suicide after suffering from depression and insomnia brought on by feeling “overwhelmed” by charity requests. Olive’s demographic details were on file with 99 charities and in one year she received 466 mailings, the Fundraising Standards Board found.

The findings showed that:

  • The mailings Mrs. Cooke received rose from 119 in the year 2000 to a peak of 466 in 2014
  • Twenty four of the 99 charities had passed on her contact details
  • Seven in 10 had obtained her details from a third party
  • Only 14 of the 99 charities offered a specific opt-out opportunity in their mailings

But upon further investigation, Mrs. Cooke’s granddaughter had given a long interview saying that she had been ill, depressed, and unable to sleep well and that the mail mountain [from charities] had not been a factor in her death. This story, however, was not as widely used as the first one.

I have written past articles about peoples’ perceptions — that they are mailed many more times than is actually the case. Unfortunately, for Mrs. Cooke, she was indeed over-mailed by a myriad of charities. And many of the charities bought/sold mailing lists.

I cannot stress it enough — I would never be associated with an organization that buys/sells mailing lists. Charity is supposed to build on a persons’s benevolence and desire to make the world a better place. This practice treats the donor as an ATM (another one of my pet peeves)!

As a self-professed non-Direct Mail kind of guy, I do know that Direct Mail accounts for some of the most stalwart donors an organization could have. But are we, as charities, treating these donors like a commodity? I hope not.

Please respect your donors’ wishes — if they want to be removed from mailing lists, please remove them. And please, I beseech you, never sell their information.

While Mrs. Cooke’s death was a tragic event, perhaps we can take this opportunity to think of life through the donors’ eyes.

This will be my last post for 2018, as I am sure you will be getting a huge surge in emails as the end of year approaches. I don’t want to add to the noise.

See you in ’19