What’s Up with That? Who mails real dimes back to March of Dimes?

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

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I want to know what the March of Dimes is thinking when they send dimes to people. How many people do they mail dimes to, and how much does that cost? How much money could they put to work on their real mission versus this cheap (expensive?) stunt. I might consider giving to March of Dimes, but this gimmick seems to say March of Dimes is just playing games with funds, not helping kids.

— Annoyed Parent

This reporter must be on that same March of Dimes mailing list, A.P. And when that coin arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, the same thought occurred: Can March of Dimes, with its track record of effectively eliminating polio and its ongoing crusade to support healthy babies, figure out no better use for 10 cents than mailing it back and forth with me?

Apparently not. Michele Larsen, the Oregon March of Dimes communications director, said the dime-mailer strategy — which doesn’t originate locally but at the national office in White Plains, N.Y. — is a hugely successful one.

“We receive approximately 20 complaints annually from people who are offended by the request,” Larsen said. That’s not locally — she means 20 complaints nationwide. “However, most people find the dime highly meaningful. It is closely tied to our history and inspires people to donate to the March of Dimes very generously,” she said.

How generously? That little dime mailer returns about $20 million annually to March of Dimes. So figure a ratio of one skeptic sacrificed per cool million gained. Is that worth it? You do the math.

“Please rest assured that we are diligent and responsible stewards of our funding, and that we would not be sending out this package unless it provided us with an excellent return on our investment,” Larsen concluded.

Charity Navigator, an organization that analyzes nonprofit agency finances and user comments, rates March of Dimes two stars out of four — with high marks for transparency but low marks for financial health and funds dedicated to the cause. It has scored even lower than that, but has not scored three stars or higher since 2001.

According to Charity Navigator, March of Dimes spent approximately three-quarters of its roughly $209 million budget on charitable programs and services in 2010, and one-quarter, or $51 million, on administration and fundraising. The CEO, Jennifer Howse, was paid $633,132 in 2009.

Having said all that — March of Dimes just held its annual March for Babies in Vancouver on April 28, with hundreds of walkers in attendance. According to the Portland office, funds raised during this march will support prenatal wellness programs, research grants, neonatal intensive care unit family support programs and advocacy efforts for stronger, healthier babies.

National and local sponsors of March of Dimes include everyone from Kmart to Farmers Insurance Group and Watson Pharmaceuticals to United Airlines. Local sponsors include PacificSource Health Plans and PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.

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