With Valentine’s Day approaching, my inbox is filling up with the usual pitches from people who think that since I write about single life, what I and my readers must really crave is a marriage partner. I’ve written posts mocking them before, but they don’t read, they just try to sell.

Amidst the offers of access to an interview with some king or queen of sugar babies, and the pitches illustrated by condoms arranged in the shape of a heart, was something a little different, with no accompanying obnoxious illustrations.  The email began like this:

“Forget speed dating, online cruising and bar hopping and look to the non-profit that holds your heart to find true love.”

It then went on for more than a page to tell the story of two people who met at the fundraiser that is being promoted in the email. It ended with:

“Please consider speaking with [the couple’s name]. I can provide photos from their wedding and of their beautiful family.”

I’m ambivalent about this. On the one hand, the pitch is worthier than all the rest – if it succeeds, some non-profit will benefit. At the same time, though, if you believe your non-profit is truly doing good work, why not promote that good work for what it actually is, rather than as a bar-hopping alternative to finding a mate? The latter perpetuates the stereotype that whatever good or interesting things that singles are doing are probably just in service of becoming unsingle.

In one of the most famous studies in social psychology, which inspired decades of research, children either were or were not rewarded for doing something they loved doing anyway – playing with magic markers. The kids who were rewarded for doing what they already wanted to do ended up liking the magic marker play less than they used to. The phenomenon is called “undermining intrinsic motivation.” Kids (and adults, too, as later studies show) start thinking that they are only playing with the magic markers to get a reward, so once they have it, the markers are not much fun anymore.

There are so many nonprofits that do wonderful work. Why undermine the value of volunteering by selling it as a way to land a date by Valentine’s Day?