An Etiquette Guide for Street Fundraisers

We’ve covered various types of urban etiquette on this blog. Whether it’s tipping in restaurants, riding public transit, or hanging out in the park, everyone can agree on certain do’s and don’ts in these types of situations. There is one particular profession that doesn’t get called out too often. The well-meaning kind that’s hard to criticize because they working for the greater good, so to speak. Living in any city, you get accosted but all types of people asking you for money. They’ll shove flyers in your hand for “trial” beauty treatments, guys dressed up as tacos, hot dogs, or the Statue of Liberty offering their services, and then there are street fundraisers.

You’ve seen them, with their clipboard in hand and their earnest faces, with just a branded windbreaker separating them from wind, rain, and snow. I want to say first off, that I admire the dedication and balls it takes to go up to strangers and ask them to support your cause. Asking people to text message to support Haiti is a hell of a lot easier than raising funds for gay marriage, animal rights, and the environment. I have the unique experience of being approached by these people every single weekday and sometimes weekends. Just on my morning walk to work, I have eventually broken down and donated funds to the Human Rights Campaign, ASPCA, and Planned Parenthood. While assertiveness is necessary in this line of work, there’s some patterns I’ve noticed in a lot of these volunteers I feel I need to address.

How NOT to get people’s attention:

I’ve employed many tactics to avoid talking to volunteers, faking a call on the cellphone, putting on headphones, and crossing the other side of the street. You can sense when someone’s trying to avoid you, the key is to reading people’s body language. You can tell when someone is in a rush or has time to stop for a minute. I can tell you that blocking someone’s path then moving in front of them as they try to get around you unnecessarily aggressive. No one’s going to give you money or listen to you talk about the Kyoto protocol if you’re up in their face. I’ve even had two guys try to block me from both sides to get my attention. I’m pretty sure giving off rapey vibes is not in the volunteer handbook. Neither is saving the puppies at whatever cost.

Save the Snark

Volunteers are generally upbeat and positive but once in awhile you come across someone who has the deposition of an old postal worker. Recently I saw a girl try to get a passerby to stop and talk. When he briskly walked by her she yelled after him”or not!” them muttered something under her breath. Yes I know honey, the man gets you down, but 90′s style sarcasm only works for adolescent teens not PETA volunteers. Once that self-assured optimism starts to run low its time to turn in your fanny pack and join the jaded masses like the rest of us.

Conserve Your Calls

I knew once I donated to an organization I’d end up in their database but I was not prepared for the phone stalking that followed. If you thought that alumni groups were pushy you have no idea how persistent non-profits can be. I have to screen calls at all hours just because I gave $10 to someone, one time. This is where I think a lot of organizations screw themselves over. Before I wouldn’t mind stopping for a minute to support a good cause, but I now that I know the level of harassment that follows it makes me never want to donate again. In these tough economic times, I barely have enough money to buy toilet paper in bulk let alone sign up for a monthly donation of any kind.  I still to this day, live in fear of any phone calls with a Texas area code. I’m looking at YOU, Planned Parenthood.

Location, Location, Location

What do non-profits, Bank of America, Starbucks, and car dealerships have in common? Where’s there’s one, there’s always at least two more across the street. As I mentioned previously, there is not a day that goes by where I don’t get approached by a volunteer. That means I’m probably not the only one who has this problem. And at least 3 different organizations stand on the same corner. Don’t you think it’s time to diversify? Maybe you won’t get rejected by the same people over and over again if you mix up your location? Main business centers and tourist attractions are an obvious target, but I don’t work near anything like Times Square. If you want to expand your support base, trying walking a block sometime. You know, just to mix things up.

One of the only tactics I’ve seen a high success rate with is getting highly attractive people to work these street teams. Maybe someone needs to be convincing young and impressionable women that working for the Green Peace looks better on your resume than driving around the Red Bull truck or handing out free Bud Light t-shirts at bars. You can put those same people skills to work AND save the environment.

Photo Courtesy of: Seattle Weekly


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About the author

Laura S - Spendthrift Scribe

Laura S, left the "sixth borough" three years ago to settle in Brooklyn. After working at some daily rags, she now does writing on the side but still eats more Ramen then necessary. When she's not moving residences every 6 months, eating her way through every neighborhood, and trying every microbrew known to man, she is unsuccessfully rediscovering home economics. With her binging days behind her, she's now exploring new projects and rediscovering the city that she loves (although is still prone to sliding on her knees during a Prince karaoke set).
  • Kathie

    I don’t think one needs to pretend to be on a call or whatever to avoid these people. What’s wrong with just being assertive and saying “NO!”– or even “thanks but no”. Grow some ovaries!

    Also: I’m glad you’ve realized it’s a terrible idea to give money to ANY of these places that use street-based harassment fundraising. Maybe if enough people realize this, they’ll go away.

  • Laura S – Spendthrift Scribe

    my ovaries are very offended right now

  • http://purplewax.wordpress.com Jon

    I thought it was an exceptionally helpful guide. Thanks for taking the time to write it! I have an interview tomorrow for Shelter, a charity for the homeless. I have the mentality that even though I may take a few cold shoulders and rash remarks from people, hopefully the work that I do will be able to help someone in a bad situation finally transport themselves into a good situation.

    I certainly like the point about ‘knowing your audience’ and not to force oneself upon people who are clearly in no mood to talk. Always important to remember that we have no real idea what any stranger might be going through at any given moment, and the ability to read body language in any situation like this is vital to success.

    ps. kathie is a nobhead