Indeed, at least one other organization — Children International — has seen a financial benefit from prolonged commitment to its campaign. From October 2009 through September 2012, money from DialogueDirect donors increased about 40 percent, while the money paid for those donors increased by about 14 percent.

Organizations that watch charities have differing barometers for what they say is the appropriate cost for fundraising.

The BBB Wise Giving Alliance and CharityWatch say a nonprofit's overall fundraising costs should not exceed 35 percent of the total contributions it receives in a given year. Charity Navigator says that ideally, fundraising costs should not exceed 10 percent of the revenue the campaign generates.

Employees, volunteers for some charities

Some charities still prefer to have their own ranks reach out to the public.

Consider Greenpeace's canvassing operation. In 2005, the environmental organization brought in colleagues from Europe to help set up a face-to-face fundraising campaign in the U.S. in hopes of securing more monthly donors.

The next year, Greenpeace started canvassing in Chicago, using its own employees. The canvassers not only solicit donors on the street but participate in protests and door-to-door campaigns. Sometimes they even move up in the ranks, national canvass director Dan Stafford said.

"If you walk around our headquarters, you can't throw a stone without hitting someone who has spent some time canvassing," said Stafford.

Alexander got a paid canvassing gig with Greenpeace the summer after she worked for DialogueDirect. The Chicago actress said she made the switch because she appreciated how close-knit the Greenpeace canvassers were.

"It was a lot more like a family," she said. "It made me feel more comfortable."

nnix@tribune.com

Twitter @nsnix87