Junk Mail Morality

I recently received an envelope in the mail with no return address information on the outside. It did have large letters reading:


Intrigued, I opened the envelope and found a solicitation to contribute to this organization for the provision of arts and crafts kits to hospitalized american veterans.

Along with the solicitation was a check made out to me (or “the bearer”) for $2.50.

The letter begins with:

I’ve enclosed a $2.50 check for you.

But, I assure you we can’t afford to be giving money away.

And the letter ends with:

Of course you can cash the $2.50 check that I’ve enclosed. But my hope and prayer is that you will return it along with a generous donation of $5, $10, $15, $25 or even $50.

The check appears to be valid, and has no indication that cashing it would obligate me to anything.

I’m currently not interested in donating to this charity (for reasons that I don’t think are relevant to this post).

My question is: Should I cash the check?

Would it be wrong to cash the check? I don’t bear any ill-feelings for this organization, so I wouldn’t be cashing it to punish them for wasting my (or others’) time. I think the check (if it’s good) is a clever way to get people’s attention. I think the $2.50 amount was chosen because it’s large enough to be interesting (you can buy a couple of McDonald’s double cheeseburgers with it), but small enough to be easy to dismiss as not worth bothering to cash, or easy to feel cheap or dishonorable about causing this charity to incur this cost.

But, on the other hand, I did give the letter my attention. And, I had no agreement with this organization about what I would or should do with the check. It was an unsolicited offering. What’s wrong with cashing this check that was freely given to me?

Should I be Kantian and consider whether I’d wish for everybody who was uninterested in contributing to cash his check? Or, should I just consider whether I think my life would be better if I cashed mine vs. not cashing mine? Should my answer change if the check was for $250? Or, should I adopt a single policy and implement it a hundred times if I get the opportunity?

Right now, my inclination is to cash the check, but I’m open to arguments to why I shouldn’t.


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