Best way to respond to clipboard-bearing sidewalk fundraisers?
July 17, 2017 11:50 AM   Subscribe

It's impossible to walk around the central part of downtown Chicago (and no doubt many other downtowns) without running into clipboard-bearing people who want to talk passersby into giving to their nonprofit organizations. I give to charity, but never like this. I hate this form of fundraising, so I will never support it by giving money through it, or allow myself to be delayed more than a few seconds in one of these encounters. However, the sidewalk fundraisers are, you know, people who are just doing their job and/or really care about the causes they work for, and I'd rather make their efforts less sucky for them rather than more so, within those parameters. So what's the best approach? I'd love to hear from people who have actually done sidewalk fundraising.
posted by Mechitar to Human Relations (68 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
The fake phone call is your best friend. Deploy it early and often.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 11:51 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]


I use "No, thanks!" with a smile, or "I'm already a donor, thanks!" The trick is to keep moving. Do not stop.
posted by rtha at 11:54 AM on July 17 [37 favorites]


No thanks and keep walking, don't make eye contact unless it's too weird not to.

They want to waste as little time as possible and do not care how you respond as long as you aren't actively nasty or threatening.

(I used to do door-to-door canvassing and the best possible "no" is the shortest and most definitive "no" because it allows you to waste less time.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:55 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]


"happy to chat but I just have NO discretionary funds at the moment"
posted by sammyo at 11:56 AM on July 17


Smile and say no thanks.
posted by KateViolet at 11:58 AM on July 17 [6 favorites]


A firm 'No thanks!', with a smile and shake of the head.
(Unless somebody calls me 'Hey Mom!', in which case I hiss back, 'I'm not your fucking mom'.)
posted by The Toad at 11:59 AM on July 17 [6 favorites]


I'd caution against saying that you don't have enough money to contribute, or bringing up your own finances in any way.

In my experience most sidewalk canvassers use this as an "in" to start questioning your budget. "Really, you don't have $10? What about $5?" etc. I remember being asked in 2008 to give "$44 for 44" by an Obama campaign canvasser. I politely declined, citing my poor college student status, only to get "Really? That's less than you spend on a night out. Come on, girl!" I was like "Ugh I DON'T GO OUT I'M POOR BYE."

Nthing that a firm "No thanks!" is the only way to go with these people

posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:02 PM on July 17 [27 favorites]


Do not engage, do not give a reason, do not elaborate. Being polite doesn't require anything more than the briefest acknowledgement. "No thank you" is plenty.
posted by skewed at 12:07 PM on July 17 [9 favorites]


I have a smile just for street solicitations- no teeth, no eye crinkling, it's just a lift in the corners of the mouth while I keep moving. Sometimes I throw in a hand raise like, hi, I see you, I'm going to keep on moving.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:08 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


Sometimes I'll call them chuggers to their face ("charity muggers"), but I'll generally either walk by, say "no thank you," "never," or "I gave at the office."

They aren't going to ask for money, they're going to ask for contact information so other people can ask you for money.
posted by rhizome at 12:09 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


They do not exist to you. Focus your eyes on a point a few buildings down the street and look grim. If there is any attempt on their part to engage (and I find that the eye-focusing trick dissuades it; they can tell when you can't easily be roped in), completely ignore it. Don't even let things get to the point where you are rejecting them. When they see you are untouchable they'll just move on to the next person, there are plenty.
posted by dfan at 12:13 PM on July 17 [15 favorites]


"No thanks" usually works and keep walking. If it is a charity I already contribute to, I'll say that and thank them for their work, but always keep walking. I don't want to waste their time or get their hopes up.
posted by kendrak at 12:17 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


Don't make eye contact. Look past them without acknowledging their presence. If they try to put themselves in front of you or force contact, a firm and clear "NO" without breaking stride.

You're not being rude by refusing this social contact, they're being rude by exploiting our understanding of social expectations to interrupt you and demand money. Don't be mean to them, but you owe them nothing.
posted by Lexica at 12:18 PM on July 17 [22 favorites]


If you have headphones in you can't hear them, as far as they know.
posted by COD at 12:20 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I ignore them-- they're people, of course, but they're not approaching you as "people," they're approaching you as work.

Engagement (even "no thanks!") wastes their time because any engagement looks like an in.

NYC here.
posted by kapers at 12:20 PM on July 17 [7 favorites]


people who are just doing their job ... I'd rather make their efforts less sucky for them rather than more so

Just because it's their job doesn't mean that they're not invading your time and personal space. You don't owe them more than a polite, "no thanks," if even that. Just because it's ostensibly for a good cause doesn't make it any better than if people were constantly trying to sell you anything else.

In some cases, the charity/political donation groups are pretty close to a scam as far as helping the cause - the people doing the solicitation and their handlers may be walking away with ~50% of the donation. In other cases it is an outright scam (link goes talks about Europe, but you'll find similar pickpocket operations and hard sell charity scams in the US).
posted by Candleman at 12:21 PM on July 17 [9 favorites]


I collected signatures for a ballot initiative once. I guess this is slightly different than asking for money, but I did appreciate the people who gave a quick, bland "no thanks." I think that is all you need to say--no explanation necessary. People who ignored me totally were effective. I also got yelled at a lot, which really sucked. Ever since then I've had a lot of sympathy for people doing that sort of thing, whether it's for a job or a cause they care about.
posted by whistle pig at 12:26 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


"I already support," zero change in pace.
posted by history is a weapon at 12:27 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


people who are just doing their job ... I'd rather make their efforts less sucky for them rather than more so

Yeah, "their job" doesn't have much to do with the cause they're working with. They work for an agency that sends them out with Greenpeace one day, Children's Fund the next. If you want to talk to them, ask them who their paychecks come from. It ain't gonna be Greenpeace.
posted by rhizome at 12:28 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


Pay attention to your surroundings, don't get caught. Look down the block as you are walking-- unless they're hiding behind a blind turn like some kind of charity speed-trap, it's pretty obvious who is asking for money on the street (look for: clipboards, matching t-shirts, someone not moving with the flow of traffic.) You should be paying attention to where you're walking anyway, even in broad daylight, just out of general safety. Once you see them, cross the street or maneuver yourself to be behind someone else, someone less aware or slower-moving than you, who is now your human shield, who will take their attention. Speed up after your human shield gets caught so attention is not thrown to you. They can't engage with more than one subject at a time.

If you can't do that, smile, eye contact, "Sorry, no," don't break stride. "No" is a complete sentence. They are people doing a shitty job (in my experience, if you don't earn your quota, you don't get paid for the day) but they are still human and deserve a civil response.

"No" also works for the kind who are like "Don't you care about the environment?" If you're going to ask a stupid question, you're going to get a stupid answer.
posted by blnkfrnk at 12:28 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


THEY are the ones who are being rude for not respecting the rights of others to be left alone. I have: had my way blocked, hands waved in my face, been called pet names, been told to smile and had a belt thrown at me by chuggers and am beyond fed up. No organization who uses them gets a penny from me.
posted by brujita at 12:38 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


I avoid eye contact and I already have some pretty strong situational deafness so I often don't even realize they're talking to me. I usually just say "sorry, I'm in a hurry" or "sorry, I'm late for something" (in a hurry to get home and pet the cats, or late for happy hour, or whatever, so it's not entirely a lie). One time I made the mistake of telling a Nature Conservancy guy I hated nature, and boy, did he try hard to start a conversation after that. I don't make jokes anymore.

I need a good phone script for the people who call from the DNC, though, because those poor idealistic volunteers do not want to hear what I actually think.
posted by fedward at 12:49 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


If it's a cause you affirmatively care about, you can say something quick without stopping. whenever anybody asks me if I have a moment for Planned Parenthood I say I'm already a member, and they act really happy to hear it even though I'm not contributing to their quota of whatevers. same for the ACLU. everybody else I ignore. talking to somebody you already know you aren't going to give money to is something you should only do to bad-cause canvassers, as it eats up time they could spend on gaining supporters and demoralizes their workers.

the worst thing that ever happens is someone tries to give me a women's rights high-five, and this I always evade.

sometimes also when I accidentally answer a guy I didn't mean to talk to, I cut him off very early into the pitch and ask if they're collecting money or signatures, because I will do one but not the other and (I say) I don't want to waste their time. If they don't give a quick simple answer, whatever they are about to say is a lie or else they want my phone number as well as money and they cannot have it, so I walk away. If you are really firm about not being talked into donations, conversation is a worse time-waster for them than for you, so you do them a favor by ignoring them.
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:53 PM on July 17


Say "I don't give to street fundraisers" without slowing down, keep walking.

I hate the street fundraisers in the loop; they are idealistic young people who have been told by the company who hired them that they're working for a charity when they are not. It's exploitative. That's why I say "I don't give to street fundraisers" rather than "no" or something shorter. I want them to think about it. I don't know if it helps, but it makes me feel a little better.
posted by juniperesque at 12:54 PM on July 17 [18 favorites]


Extreme examples such as brujita's notwithstanding, the general model of fundraising they are working off of is pretty terrible. Less than a third of whatever you might give them actually makes its way to the organization, in general, as it is a commission-based model that also has to account for the overhead of the third party with whom the canvassers contract. For me, this alone is enough no to support them.

As a NYC dweller and worker ive gotten really used to dealing with them - everyone suggesting you stop and talk but offer no money is inviting trouble. Without being disrespectful of the canvassers or orgs they are working for, the best solution is just to completely ignore them if possible (in general im on crowded sidewalks and will try to pace myself when approaching so they go after someone else) or, if need by, and without slowing down say either "aready a donor" if true, or "not today, but good luck out here" if its an organization I support theoretically but not financially. Neither opens any doors for further discussion and by not slowing down you reinforce the message that they will not be getting money out of you which should turn their attention elsewhere quickly.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 12:55 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


So, this used to bother me. Now I blank them completely unless they physically block my way (which sometimes they do) in which case I say "NO THANK YOU" and push past if I have to. Sometimes I have to.

Why it no longer bothers me to pass them by:

1. I once stopped to ask if I could simply take a card to donate online from my office and somehow credit them for the donation, since I'm not comfortable giving cash or pulling out my credit card in the street. I was told they had nothing to give me and didn't want me to give online, they wanted my money right then. So I asked if they actually wanted to raise money for the organization. I got a blank stare. Fine.

2. A second time, I stopped to painstakingly explain that I work for a nonprofit, I volunteer at a second non-profit, and I can only afford to financially support 5 nonprofits each year, which I carefully vet and donate to during their annual drives. With absolutely no change in tone or volume they responded "WHY NOT MAKE IT SIX?!" Fine.

So I never ever stop for them anymore. If they look particularly pitiful I will say "No thank you!" as I pass them. But I never stop, never make eye contact, never engage. Unless - as they sometimes do - they try to actually stop me physically. Which... what the actual hell.
posted by pammeke at 1:05 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


I have done it. A simple "No thanks!" delivered with a smile was more than enough for me.
posted by goggie at 1:05 PM on July 17


I live in NYC. Because I'm now old enough to call people "hon" without anyone thinking it's weird, I just smile and say, "Not today, hon" without slowing down at all. Of course, it's never any day, but they don't have to know that.

(My favorites were the ones who were ostensibly raising money for some children's charity and would say, in a saccharine voice, "You love children, don't you?" I would truthfully reply, "No, actually," and sort of enjoy watching some of them look shocked.)
posted by holborne at 1:05 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Headphones! And/or "sorry, can't stop." Engaging has basically never gone well for me. (I do donate to charities but electronically.)
posted by ferret branca at 1:15 PM on July 17


I feel your pain. I hate this form of guilt-based, aggressive fundraising but do not want to be needlessly jerky to the people stuck doing this shitty job. I say "I already support queer rights/child welfare/the environment" or just "no thank you" and I KEEP MOVING as advised up-thread.

I am extra-offended by it as a practice because I work in nonprofit fundraising. Honestly, it makes me feel negatively toward the organizations that canvass like this, and would love to know the most efficient way to communicate my disapproval to the appropriate headquarters. (Appropriate = it doesn't necessarily help to contact the national office if it's a local affiliate, and vice-versa.) However, I am not going to stop get any contact info from the actual canvassers, because any engagement with them is a time-suck.
posted by desuetude at 1:20 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


I just say "sorry not today" and keep moving.
posted by Green With You at 1:23 PM on July 17


My approach: without stopping walking, I smile and say "have a good day".

This is nice to folks who have a lousy job.

It is also disarming, and often makes them forget their pitch for a minute. By the time they remember it again, I'm gone.
posted by Cranialtorque at 1:36 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


I've taken to saying "No thank you" regardless of what their opening line is.
-"Do you care about children?" "No thank you."
-"Do you have a minute to save the whales?" "No thank you."
-"I like your hat! You look like a lady who cares about--" "No thank you."

I also recommend what I call Pedestrian Drafting, where you position yourself behind a group of other pedestrians just as you approach striking range.

I'm also not above crossing the street when I have people fatigue and see one lurking ahead.
posted by purple_bird at 1:52 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


I usually manage a bit of eye contact and a shake of the head before they swoop in. If they actually talk to me, "no, thanks!" and I continue on my way.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:59 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


> I feel your pain. I hate this form of guilt-based, aggressive fundraising but do not want to be needlessly jerky to the people stuck doing this shitty job. I say "I already support queer rights/child welfare/the environment" or just "no thank you" and I KEEP MOVING as advised up-thread.

Many, many years ago, back in the pre-chugger days of box-rattling, my father - while out pushing my youngest brother (who has Down's Syndrome, and is also severely visually impaired) along in his pushchair - was ambushed by a charity fundraiser who jumped out and rattled a collecting tin under his nose whilst chanting "HANDICAPPED CHILDREN! HANDICAPPED CHILDREN!"

Dad [nodding down towards Brother] : "Already got one, but thanks for the offer!"
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 2:03 PM on July 17 [31 favorites]


I tell them I don't give to street fundraisers, and sometimes let them know that I already support their organization. If they are eager to engage, I shift the topic to their terms and conditions of employment. I let them know that it is important to me that they receive a living wage, that their take home pay is not overly commission-based etc. I tell them that I support the efforts of some of these workers to organize. Here's a piece on how bad some of these jobs are, and what some workers are doing about it.

My goal is to let these workers now that while I won't give them money, I believe they are workers and humans and I hope that the (often putatively progressive) organizations for which they work are treating them appropriately. Although it's hard for me to fact check what they tell me, I think they are fairly honest. They often share some information about the very high turnover and low hourly wage. One person I spoke with said she was a manager and was paid an OK hourly wage (maybe around $15 an hour) but was honest about it being a pretty bad job with tough work and high turnover.
posted by cushie at 2:37 PM on July 17 [11 favorites]


I often say, 'no thank you, but good luck!'
posted by namesarehard at 3:10 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Just keep walking. Ignore them.

I get that they're just doing a job, but they're doing a job that requires them to basically hack social norms to create a sense of obligation. Don't entertain that.

When I'm walking down a street, or in a shopping center, and I'm accosted by someone with a sample or a product or a clipboard, I just keep walking. They don't deserve any more of your time than, say, phone spammers.
posted by uberchet at 3:54 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Just say, "no, thanks." It's a massive scam, anyway. Most of the money being collected goes towards overhead.
posted by My Dad at 3:59 PM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Once I was approached by a Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania person outside of my office. I cheerily said that I already donated to PPNJ because I live there, and he followed me two blocks badgering me to give money to PA too since that's where I earn my money. Finally, at the subway stairs, I had to loudly tell him to stop following me and that it was making me uncomfortable.

Since then, I just say "no thank you." Don't engage because there's a comeback for ever rejection.
posted by kimberussell at 4:04 PM on July 17


I thought long and hard over this question, and about its answers. I considered using a sock to answer this, but decided not to, because this subject, from the reverse perspective, has actually been consuming me for the past few weeks, and I think it's important.

I currently work in a semi-managerial role at one of these organizations. I have been working for them for about a month, ever since I decided that I needed work and needed to be doing something, anything, to fight what was happening now. When I was hired, it was to fundraise for a specific organization that I very, very much believe in as desperately crucial in these terrible times. I know the job is far below my actual skills at organizing. I am aware that I am massively underpaid for the work, difficulty, and my experience. I did not know the position was for a canvassing-related position when I applied for it - I believed it was going to be for organizing work. However, once I was offered the opportunity to be paid to help an organization that desperately needs help, the offer felt impossible to turn down. I have been promoted twice in that month, and I can tell you that everything people have posted about about the grueling nature of the work, lack of unionization, lack of healthcare, etc, are all true. The exploitation comes from the national organization - most local offices are desperate to help the cause. They are true activist believers, and frequently spend a lot of their own money trying to make things better - on training materials, reimbursements for expenses, etc.

But the work has to get done. Because these organizations do, in fact, need money. They need money for staff, for lawyers, for all the important work that everyone is really excited about. And it needs to come from somewhere. And it's not going to happen, largely, unless people are asked for it. That's why organizations send out those direct mailers everyone hates, and those weirdly targeted emails. And yes, why they have canvassers in the streets. Because these organizations - all of them - are desperately underfunded and struggling to make their mission. And honestly? While I also prefer not to use street canvassers, and never used them (except for tabling) in former nonprofits, I have yet to find a way of asking people for money that everyone agrees they enjoy. And without asking people for money, these organizations would close up their doors and be unable to do the good work that many lives are counting on.

The most grueling thing about canvassing work, however, is not actually the long hours, or standing in the street under the hot sun with few breaks, or even the uncertain employment and inability to unionize. The most grueling thing about canvassing work - the thing that makes canvassers I know break into tears of despair and struggle, hard, with depression - is the slow destruction of their idealism. From believing that most people are fundamentally good and will care if given the chance, to believing that while some people are good, the vast, vast majority simply do not care and will never care even enough to grant basic human decency to people who are standing in the street for a cause they ostensibly support. And most of these kids are young - getting their heart broken that early really, really sucks.

In this past month, there have been dozens of incidents of actual sexual harassment experienced by this team, from propositions to indecent exposure. Trump supporters particularly love to harass canvassers, and have a host of insults at the ready - from telling immigrants to go back to their country, to telling minorities they're not welcome or will never 'get a real job', to racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation and gender identity slurs. The amount of actual abuse these people experience on a daily basis is unreal - I never would have believed it before I started working with them.

But those are not the incidents that linger with them. Those reactions range from horrified to amused, but they expect abuse from those types of people - "the enemy". The reactions that deeply trouble them, over and over again - and if I am being honest, the reactions that sadden me - are when people who are sporting progressive badges look through them as though they aren't there, or give them flippant answers. When people wearing safety pins pretend they don't see trans canvassers, or people wearing Black Lives Matter gear look through people who are working to stop police brutality. People saying "they don't care, as long as you're not planning to donate" are completely incorrect. They do, from my experience, care quite a bit.

If you want to be kind to street canvassers, don't look through them, and don't offer them a lie. They know that 95% of you are not that busy, or late, or too much in a rush to be able to take a minute to hear their pitch. They know you can hear them. They know you can see them. They know when you're not really on the phone, or when you're crossing the street to avoid them. You are not the first person they've encountered. Don't do it.

If you are actually a member of the organization they are canvassing for, you can say so, and wish them luck, if you mean it. If you aren't, but support the organization or the cause, it's nice to say so. If you are kind of meh about the organization or cause, you can always say "I'm sorry, but have a good day!" You never go wrong wishing people a good day, which presumably you would want for them as you would any other human.
posted by corb at 4:24 PM on July 17 [12 favorites]


Don't slow down. Smile and say, "I already donate- it's a great cause! Have a lovely day!"
(It's not a lie because you didn't specifically say you donated to *their* cause.)
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:29 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


If you want to be kind to street canvassers, don't look through them, and don't offer them a lie. They know that 95% of you are not that busy, or late, or too much in a rush to be able to take a minute to hear their pitch. They know you can hear them. They know you can see them. They know when you're not really on the phone, or when you're crossing the street to avoid them. You are not the first person they've encountered. Don't do it.

I live in a city. I interact with hundreds if not thousands of people daily. Many of them ask me for money. Some of those are polite about it, some aren't (do not EVER run up on me, ESPECIALLY after dark — Sharky was lucky I didn't reflexively clock him and leave him gasping on the sidewalk).

Nobody should be flashing clipboarders, or assaulting them, or verbally insulting them (although if they start the breaching of custom by aggressively ignoring "I do not intend to engage with you" signals I can't get too worked up about sharp responses like "NO" or even "fuck off"). But not one of us owes them our time, or attention, or engagement. "People look through them." Oh, my heart just bleeds! Those poor dears, ignored! gasps, sinks down on fainting couch

Give me a break. Being ignored on a city sidewalk by somebody you're trying to solicit isn't a snub or an insult. Refusing to recognize that living in a city means we engage in social customs like not accosting strangers to demand engagement is rude.

You want me to say "I'm sorry, but have a good day"? They have already encroached on my space by getting in front of me or doing the "take your earbuds out!" gesture. No, I'm not going to further expend my emotional energy by behaving as though I'm the one being rude or the one who needs to be giving emotional strokes to the other party.
posted by Lexica at 5:01 PM on July 17 [34 favorites]


I agree with Lexica. We don't owe them.

In the street I try to use someone else as a shield, but if it doesn't work, I hold up a hand to ward them off and move past at speed. I resent that I have to strategize even to this extent.

I was so annoyed when they came inside the metro stations in Montreal and were pestering people near the turnstiles that I wrote an email to the transit commission and suggested they not be allowed there. And they agreed with me.
posted by zadcat at 5:08 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


The kindest thing you can do is not engage if you're not going to give. Engaging in any way indicates that you're open to the possibility of being sold and any half decent salesman will then try to sell you. This is an aggravating waste of their time and energy as well as yours.

Keep walking. Say "No thanks" if you must or if they're inexperienced enough to try to engage you. Make no eye contact. Everyone will be happier. It's not mean, I promise.
posted by windykites at 5:39 PM on July 17 [1 favorite]


I will just smile and say "no thanks" or "sorry" (hey what I am canadian) I do feel that they deserve common courtesy, I am not such a fragile flower that I can't spare a half second's worth of effort to be decent to another human being, even if what they are doing is bothersome.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 5:57 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


The ones I've encountered in both the SF Bay Area and Denver try to engage me by starting off with "I love your purple hair!" or "Nice bike!" I just smile and say "Thank you!" while continuing to keep walking away. It doesn't feel rude because I'm not ignoring the nice thing they are saying, but it also doesn't waste their time or mine--and doesn't generate the anxiety and awkward trapped feelings that any sort of engagement would for me. And yeah I don't think we really owe them anything or that it's rude to ignore them, but it feels better to me to make it a quick positive interaction and move on, rather than getting annoyed and silently grumbling to myself about it for the next couple minutes.

I have to admit I do pointedly ignore the ones who aggressively get in my space or keep calling after me as I walk away, because that is Not Okay. But that's more mall kiosk people who want to sell me their Dead Sea Salt hand masques or whatever, and not usually the nice college freshmen raising funds for Planned Parenthood.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:16 PM on July 17 [2 favorites]


You are trying to get through your day without stopping to talk to a clipboarder. They are trying to get you to stop and talk to them with the hopes that they will somehow get you to give them money. This is inherently an adversarial relationship, with the twist of their trying to leverage rules of politeness against you to get you to do what io you don't want to do.

Look through them, walk past them, do not hear them nor their attempts to make you feel guilt for not engaging them on their terms, which are in explicit opposition to your desires.

Don't apologize, don't notice, walk on and feel no guilt. They're the ones engaging in the socially deprecated behavior. That's why there are so many strategies for avoiding them.

They're complete fucking strangers accosting you on the street, without personal introduction, trying to get past your defenses to get money from you.

They're just more urban noise. Tune them out.

They are Lumbergh, you are Peter. Peter is remorseless in his having no time for Lumbergh's shit . Peter just gets on with his day.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:27 PM on July 17 [5 favorites]


Okay, unlike most (all?) of the people in this thread, I actually have done this job, like you were asking for in the first place. Some of these folks have offered good suggestions and others I hope spend little time in public. A few quick responses:

They aren't going to ask for money, they're going to ask for contact information so other people can ask you for money.
Nope.

the people doing the solicitation and their handlers may be walking away with ~50% of the donation
Nope.

Yeah, "their job" doesn't have much to do with the cause they're working with. They work for an agency that sends them out with Greenpeace one day, Children's Fund the next.
Nope.

Those things may be true sometimes, but they're definitely not the case with anyone I've encountered, so you can't count on them being true. There is every likelihood you are dealing with people like corb described: young, idealistic people who genuinely believe in their cause and their communities. Some of us may drop out because our idealism gets broken. Some of us drop out because we don't think the system is working right. Some of us drop out because it's actually a genuinely hard job and we're just not good enough at it. But while we're there, a lot of us care.

You want to keep walking by? Sure, that's fine, we're obviously used to it. But smiles and nods go a long way. Don't make eye contact if you're afraid to, but smile. Any words you speak in a neutral-to-friendly tone of voice will be welcome. Tell us you're already a donor and we'll feel that much better about our days and our communities. (It's okay to lie about this! We don't know you!)

And if you do find yourself with free time (of course we never believe people are as busy as they say they are, I mean, come on), it's generally okay to chat with somebody about their cause even after explicitly warning them you're not going to give them money. Because we are starved for conversation and we know stuff about the cause. It could be a fun time for everybody.
posted by one for the books at 7:22 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


If they are sad every time someone walks past, they are not being adequately trained. They should be aware---and good management helps with this---that people don't engage for a lot of reasons, and that taking it personally is a quick road to burnout.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:29 PM on July 17 [8 favorites]


Just chiming in here again since I know the Chicago market extremely well, which is what the OP is looking for:

With the marked exception of the Misericordia people, Chicago-based street fundraisers ARE employed by firms who contract with Greenpeace/PP/HRC/ASPCA/MercyHome. Those firms are for-profit companies, and the biggest employer in the city for this work is Dialogue Direct. Every one of those young people answered an ad on Craigslist like this one or a posted near their college campus for a "Summer Job to Save the Environment." Kids out fundraising for their basketball teams are a scam.

They say that 100% of the funds they are raising go straight to the organization's mission, which is true. That is because the pay for Dialogue Direct and other direct marketing firms comes out of another budget line from the organization.

These are churn-and-burn employment opportunities. Being kind and firm and not engaging with a person to whom you owe nothing is the best thing to do.
posted by juniperesque at 7:35 PM on July 17 [9 favorites]


I say I don't have time.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:38 PM on July 17


Because these organizations do, in fact, need money. They need money for staff, for lawyers, for all the important work... it's not going to happen, largely, unless people are asked for it. That's why organizations send out those direct mailers everyone hates, and those weirdly targeted emails. And yes, why they have canvassers in the streets.

I've spent my entire career (and volunteer careeer) in nonprofit charitable work, and so I have some opinions about this.

Sure the orgs need money, but street canvassing is an exploitive and sideways way of raising it, and it's really pretty unethical overall. It benefits first and foremost the private or otherwise-unrelated companies that contract with the organizations to raise the money.

Good organizations have multiple and healthy income streams. I am sorry that many worthy organizations feel that this exploitive industry is one way to bring in an income stream that otherwise would not exist, but not sorry enough to validate that expectation by actually giving the time of day, let alone money or data, to a street canvasser. It would be best for all if this method of fundraising died out from ineffectiveness. If you are a good fundraiser, development jobs are among the most competitive and highest-paid in the nonprofit industry. There is a lot of opportunity there. Since I worked for PIRG for a hot minute in college, I know that it does attract young and idealistic people - but it's not a problem for me if those young people smarten up real fast and figure out this is a parasitical industry and not the most powerful way to effect social change. Rather than lose my idealism, I quickly ascertained that this was not the path to a donor relationship based on authentic interaction and mutual respect, and moved on to roles in the nonprofit world that were not shitty. And had benefits. Young people who have made the mistake of working for these firms will figure that out too.

Also, many of them are not super idealistic or cause-driven but have been drawn in because they heard the job will give them marketing, sales, or even acting experience and training. If they have any real commitment to social change, they'll recover from this, and correctly identify their employer and its value proposition, not the cause, as the problem. In the end, it's not that different from recovering from the shittiness of table-waiting or any other entry-level, public-facing job. People suck. You move on. Ideals aren't that breakable. Just don't worry - the kids are all right.

That, and it also poisons the well for sincere, non-contract, fully-employed and compensated direct fundraisers and awareness raisers who work or volunteer directly for the benefitting organization. The negatives of street canvassing are exactly why so many people develop a resistance to even honest and straightforward organization-driven fundraising and awareness-raising efforts, to the point that they close themselves off to opportunities to give directly or support meaningful legislative efforts - and that makes it harder for good organizations to do good fundraising.. We should not reward this tactic. The less effective it is, the sooner it'll die out.

I do the 10,000-yard stare and a "no thank you" if necessary. If I get any shit (eg "don't you care?" or "too cheap?") I write to the organization ostensibly benefiting and describe my negative experience with their choice to contract with these zombie-fundraising firms. I really like the suggestion above to ask the canvassers about their employment conditions, too. If you want to be idealistic, let's start with some fair labor.

In short, do not feel bad. Say "nope" and move on. Your continuing choice to not engage forces the charities who feel they need more fundraising strategies to develop smarter, more respectful, less exploitive systems for raising money. And that's good for everyone.
posted by Miko at 9:32 PM on July 17 [18 favorites]


> The most grueling thing about canvassing work - the thing that makes canvassers I know break into tears of despair and struggle, hard, with depression - is the slow destruction of their idealism. From believing that most people are fundamentally good and will care if given the chance, to believing that while some people are good, the vast, vast majority simply do not care and will never care even enough to grant basic human decency to people who are standing in the street for a cause they ostensibly support.

Organizations that are dedicated to improving our society ARE capable of making a moral decision to not shamelessly exploit young, idealistic workers until they break.

Yes, organizations need money and they need to ask for it. And as you know, there is an entire sector of the nonprofit world devoted to this area, there is research on various methodologies, prospect segmentation, and data on effectiveness. Street canvassing isn't very effective.

I am not rude to street canvassers, I am as kind as I can manage, but there is NO WAY I am going to help justify this fundraising tactic. (FWIW, I also speak out against other situations where martyrdom is considered a solid business plan for nonprofits, both as practiced by the management culture of organizations and in the grantmaker delusion that overhead is a wholly "bad" expense.)
posted by desuetude at 9:40 PM on July 17 [13 favorites]


one for the books: unlike most (all?) of the people in this thread, I actually have done this job
me: the people doing the solicitation and their handlers may be walking away with ~50% of the donation
one for the books: Nope.
Actually, yeah, I did it for a day or so as a naive and idealistic teenage before I realized just how much of a scam it was. And yeah, the recruiting ad was much like the one juniperesque linked to. They recruited young people who were a little greedy but still wanted to feel like they were making a difference in the world, taught them a few tricks to push people's emotional buttons, and turned us lose.

Maybe you work(ed) for the ethical variety, but I have no reasonable way of knowing what type some random stranger is working for as they pester me on the street. I'm not going to pull out a smartphone and try to deduce the efficacy of what will happen to the money vs. just giving to a charity that I research at home. It's a lousy way to raise money.
posted by Candleman at 10:59 PM on July 17 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I spent one day working for a PIRG in college (environmental science major answering an ad to "get a job working to save the environment;" I was totally the young idealist target audience) and very, very quickly realized what the situation was. I was told I was overqualified but could probably move up to manager in a couple of weeks. In that case it was door-to-door canvassing and not street harass-I mean, sidewalk fundraising, but it didn't feel all that different than other scammy jobs I've had the misfortune of falling for, like "marketing jobs" selling coupon books for oil changes or hair salons. I saw it for what it was and quit after day 1.

OP, I completely share your guilt and sympathy for those kids out there on the sidewalk. I too am a Chicagoan and my office is on Michigan Avenue where they camp out every day. I sometimes hear their not-exactly-under-their-breath sarcastic "YOU have a nice DAY" comments or see deflated looks on their faces in response to my gruffness.

But it really is a sick system that we should not participate in. Unfortunately, the canvassers who have taken advantage of my kindness and the ones who have ignored all of my body and verbal language about being left alone have ruined it for the "idealistic kids just trying to make a difference." When I try to be nice, they just use it as an in to follow me, cajole me, and otherwise harass me. When I try to make it clear I do not want to engage (for example, in the winter pulling my fur-lined hood up around my face so we cannot make eye contact) they literally jump in front of me so I'm forced to break stride, crouch down, and say "I CAN SEE YOU HIDING IN THERE." Sorry, no.

Don't break stride, don't make eye contact, if they force a verbal interaction say "No, thank you" and keep walking, even if they are still talking. You can have a cheery tone in your voice and you don't have to swear at them or make snarky "actually I hate children/the environment" comments, but you don't owe them a conversation either.
posted by misskaz at 5:34 AM on July 18 [7 favorites]


I was a street canvasser for a summer. Here's what I do, depending on how much time I have, with organizations I support:

If I'm in a rush: "No thank you, but I really appreciate what you're doing!"
If I'm not in a rush: "I can't donate, but if you're building your list, I'm happy to give you my email address."

With organizations I don't support:
Headphones on, ignore.
posted by superlibby at 7:47 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I totally forgot I actually did this for one (1) day in college. ("Jobs for the environment!" I read. "I love jobs AND the environment!" I thought.)

I didn't become disillusioned that people who ignored me weren't "good people" or that they "didn't care." I became disillusioned with the (mis)management, and the aggressive sales tactic itself. In general I wish for strangers to leave me alone and I understood how most of the public feels the same way. I was embarrassed because of what I was doing, not because of how people were reacting.

OP, I wouldn't worry that not registering as "good person" by stating your affiliation is going to break hearts. You're allowed to go about your day without interacting with anyone and everyone who demands it. As a NY-er, if I had to reciprocate contact with everyone who wanted it I'd never get to work.
posted by kapers at 8:06 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Just moments ago, one insulted me for not engaging with him -- in the middle of the sidewalk. I told him that I used to do door-to-door environmental canvassing and would never have insulted anyone. As I walked away, he called me a bitch. I informed him that that is an actionable offense. He said he did not care. I said I'd call the Nature Conservancy, and he said they wouldn't care either.

They really should just stick to the script and not bug people beyond "Do you have a minute?"
posted by jgirl at 10:33 AM on July 18 [3 favorites]


corb: "the reactions that sadden me - are when people who are sporting progressive badges look through them as though they aren't there

I couldn't honestly care less. The position is essentially that of a human spammer, with all the disregard for the spam recipient that entails. Merely by employing the technique, the parent entity responsible shows itself to be ethically dubious and not worthy of either compassion or donation.
posted by WCityMike at 7:04 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


he said they wouldn't care either.

I think they probably would. Try them. Phone's the best way to get quick results.
posted by Miko at 8:28 PM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I smile at them and never say a thing. They always want to play cute verbal games -- asking you a non yes/no question, try to get you to engage. Smile to show you are not an asshole, but do not say a word. It feels so good.
posted by misterbrandt at 8:40 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


he said they wouldn't care either.

I think they probably would. Try them. Phone's the best way to get quick results.


Oh, I talked to them!
posted by jgirl at 9:35 PM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Those firms are for-profit companies, and the biggest employer in the city for this work is Dialogue Direct. Every one of those young people answered an ad on Craigslist like this one or a posted near their college campus for a "Summer Job to Save the Environment."

It is not accurate to claim that all canvasser orgs are for-profit, juniperesque.

Fund for the Public Interest, the canvassing backend for Fund for Equality (HRC's street team) that is linked in the craigslist post, and many other environment/Public Interest groups is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit based in Boston with offices nationwide.

FUND is run by good people, and they run a tight ship.

To the actual question: Don't be shitty to strangers, even if they're trying to sell you something. If someone violates a boundary with you, disengage from the interaction. Shut down and ignore attempts to re-engage.

If you need to escalate because you feel their behavior was inappropriate, report the behavior to the organization they're affiliated with and/or the local political representative who oversees the area where you were harassed, after you disengage.

Sales is all about getting you to do something you weren't planning on doing - and it is much easier to do that when the mark is reacting emotionally, and in the moment. All salespeople lean on emotional appeals - violating boundaries is crazy effective for that. The only winning move is not to play. Disengage.

Disclosure: Offspring of a car salesman. Currently I have a professional relationship with, but am not a direct employee of, the FUND for the Public Interest.
posted by enfa at 9:55 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


The idea that most people are "not that busy" is kind of dumb. I am on a schedule pretty much all the time and I'm not a particularly important person. You'd have to be an idiot or place no value on your time to stop EVERY time you are accosted on the street by a clipboard person. Like, it would literally be such a huge waste of time if you are in an downtown area like the Loop. Foolish.

I donate to three causes. I used to donate to four, one due to a street canvasser. Guess which one I eventually cancelled due to the fact that 1) I was young and stupid to stop for them in the first place and 2) I realized later that I disagreed with their organizational strategy and had never had a meaningful or genuine engagement with them...

I generally say "sorry" in a voice that ranges from sympathetic to annoyed based on how respectful they are when they address me and move right along. It does not bother me a bit.
posted by stoneandstar at 7:06 PM on July 20


I apologize if this is threadjacking, so mods, feel free to delete, but wanted to further clarify for future searchers. I work in nonprofit operations and research and I make a living uncovering money trails at nonprofits. While I never claimed that Chicago's canvassers were all for-profit companies contracting to nonprofits, the vast majority of them are, and you can find out yourself who the big ones are contracting with by looking up the organization's 990 tax forms. Sometimes you have to go one or two deep to find out what nonprofit is subcontracting from who, or which state chapter is getting help from a national umbrella organization, but the disclosures are there.

Look at the most recent 990 tax form for Fund for the Public Interest (mentioned by enfa); Section B1 listing independent paid contractors. See "Work For Progress" on there? That's the for-profit company they use to hire street team kids like the ones discussed in this thread. I don't doubt that the staff are good people running a tight ship, but they are using for-profit entities to manage their street team fundraising. Work For Progress staffs exclusively progressive causes, but they're just like Dialogue Direct. You can google "Work For Progress" to read about this company and the work they do. It's the canvassers.

This is why it is futile to complain to the organization about their canvassers' behavior. The canvassers are not the nonprofit's employees, they will probably be gone in a month anyway, and economies of scale are in place such that it doesn't matter. In downtown Chicago, there is no point in complaining to Brendan Reilly (the 42nd ward alderman whose ward encompasses the downtown loop area); his office doesn't care and has declined to crack down on canvassers for years.

FYI, the "ROI Solutions" on the 2015 990 tax form for Fund for the Public Interest is their telemarketing firm. Yes, a for-profit company that the charity outsources their fundraising telemarketing to. It's really common.
posted by juniperesque at 9:03 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]


The canvassers are not the nonprofit's employees

I disagree that it's useless to complain. Yes, they're subcontractors, but if we get a bunch of specific complaints about a contractor's employees' behavior - whether they work for a construction firm or a street team - we're going to bring that to the contractor and one possibility is that we'll stop using them. The contractors need to police this behavior, and the charity paying the bill certainly does want to know if the street team is actively harming the public perception of the charity.
posted by Miko at 9:31 PM on July 20


Sure, but at the same time, if you outsource your marketing, and this is a form of marketing, you outsource your reputation.
posted by rhizome at 11:04 PM on July 20


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