Say No to Swag | The Awkward Pose

The only way we are going to create a just, equitable, sustainable, and resilient society is by starting to live in ways that are just, equitable, sustainable and resilient. At a grand scale, this requires complete rethinking of our aggressive, consumptive society. But at the micro level, each of us can do our little part by pushing back against the flood of—junk—that crosses our path.

Twenty-five years ago I received a package in the mail from the Greater Boston Food Bank that contained a ceramic spoon holder in appreciation of a donation I made. I tossed the unwanted object, sent them a curt email questioning why money targeted to feed the hungry was spent on trinkets, and found another local food organization to support. GBFB has never gotten another dime.

Two decades ago I started passing up swag pushed at me at conferences. “But it’s free!” A huckster inevitably proclaimed. “So then, it’s probably not worth much.” I’d walk on to the next booth, happily empty-handed.

Say No to Swag The Awkward Pose
UMass Amherst, photo courtesy of UMass Amherst

Last week I received an unexpected package in the mail. I groaned at the return address: University of Massachusetts Foundation. Both of my children went to UMass, had a great time, and got solid educations. After they graduated, I rerouted annual donations from my well-endowed alma mater to UMass. Within a few years they assigned me a donor liaison; the poor guy persistently tried to meet with me as I invented new ways to say ‘no.’ To keep him at bay I told him my annual donations would continue and that UMass was in my will. Please don’t bother me anymore.

Yet, despite my desire to support higher education on the low-down, this package landed at my door.

A maroon folder with a handful of brochures ripe with photos of smiling graduates and catchy titles like, “12 Ways to Make a Meaningful Difference,” “A Tax-smart Way to Give through your IRA,” and “Personal Estate Planning Course Lesson Book.” Plus a letter from Joseph J. Kayne, Senior Director of Gift Planning, welcoming me to the William Smith Clark Society. In addition, there was the maroon blanket with UMass Amherst logo.

Why are they sending me a blanket? To keep me warm in the grave? Actually, the blanket wouldn’t keep anyone warm. According to the tag, it’s 50% polyester, made in Honduras. What is UMass thinking? Sending me this rag with thousands of miles of carbon footprint, and enough plastic fibers to choke a school of fish.

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Without waiting the recommended cool down period, I spewed off an email to Mr. Jayne:

I received today in the mail a package from the UMass Foundation with a folder of pamphlets, a letter signed by you, and a blanket with your logo.

None of which did I ask for. None of which do I want.

I do not give money to UMass so you can give gifts to me. I give it to educate students.

I have no interest in the William Smith Society; please refrain from sending me any other materials, in any media.

I realize that I may be a minority in not wanting merch for my philanthropy, but I think it is important that you realize that some donors consider it a breach of purpose. You should not by default think that someone who gives money to UMass wants an unsolicited gift of a 50% plastic blanket. It is an unsavory use of resources at so many levels.

I prefer you focus on educating the future.

Paul E. Fallon

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Within an hour I received a polite response from Mr. Jayne, apologizing for their overreach in thankfulness, and informing me that he will “make a note in my file.” His message implied that the note would be to leave me alone, though I could well imagine him writing, “This guy is a total crank. Contact him at your peril.”

I won’t cut UMass out of my will over a blanket, though the thought did cross my mind. I love the wonderful opportunities UMass provided my children and many others like them. Besides, I have no reason to believe that UMass spends more on development than comparable universities. Every school has whole staffs who spend all day every day flattering donors, soliciting money, sending out swag. A cost of doing charitable business which has nothing more to do with teaching students than a ceramic spoon holder does with feeding the hungry.

I don’t believe that anyone donates to charity because they want a spoon holder or a blanket. It’s ridiculous. Superfluous. If we all just stop accepting these pens and notepads and coffee mugs and T-shirts, the swag will disappear under the weight of its own uselessness. And in some small way the world, by every measure, will be a better place.

Say No to Swag The Awkward Pose

About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA.

My primary blog, is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition.

During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question “How will we live tomorrow?” That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog,, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others’ responses to my question.

Thank you for visiting.

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