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Is sympathetic face to face fundraising the way to go?

Is sympathetic face to face fundraising the way to go?

Recently, I’ve seen some of the most fun and thought-provoking blogs and debates on face to face fundraising for a while.  Check these out as just a sample:

Ken Burnett; Craig Linton, The Fundraising Detective; Jonathon Graspass at Flat Earth Direct; Phil Heffer at St. Mungo’s; Gordon’s (Hudson) blog.

There are always two sides for every argument of course and whilst personally, what we feel about being approached by face to face fundraisers in the street (different to doorstep approach) might be negative, there are lots of bottom line statistics which show that for some organisations it is a worthwhile activity.

I want to add something to the debate if I may, based on some personal experience of a trip to London last Friday.

  • Arrived at London Bridge station and decided to walk to my meeting as it was only 10 minutes away from the station, across the river
  • On concourse walked past a small group of senior citizens wearing sashes and holding buckets, raising money for an animal welfare charity overseas (I couldn’t read the sashes and the buckets were unlabeled)
  • Dodged three different free newspaper distributor with cabin crew smiles
  • Onto walkway leading from the station to London Bridge itself; more free newspaper distributors
  • Accosted by a large fellow loudly shaking his bucket in my direction on behalf of Help for Heroes.  He was one of two similar guys in their 30′s or 40′s adopting this technique
  • Walk past a clarinet playing busker (who was very good)
  • Off the walkway and onto the street to be confronted with a lady fundraiser over 30 dressed as a Teletubby telling me to smile because the sun is out and that we should all pull together to “help put an end to childhood cancer”.  I don’t know which charity she was supporting as she didn’t say and I couldn’t see any obvious sign
  • Loud evangelist with a microphone explaining why me and everyone else walking by should consider Jesus as the answer to our ills generally
  • Three beggars holding polystyrene cups out and looking at their feet.  One of which at least trying to engage in polite conversation; successfully in several cases
  • More free papers
  • One Big Issue seller who I’ve seen for at least five years around this part of London – not sure what people know about Big Issue sellers but I suspect the perception is that they are sold by homeless people even though that may not be the case. This lady didn’t look homeless. (I’m not being politically incorrect, I’m simply voicing a view that time-poor commuters will make a snap decision on whether to give or not in this situation and won’t spend time reasoning the validity of the fundraiser – if the face doesn’t match their expectations it will impact on their likelihood to give)
  • Arrive at destination.

That was just 10 minutes of walking!

The return journey that evening was different to the tune of:  no Teletubby, more beggars, a band instead of the clarinet player, the Help for bucket shakers albeit restricted by a table off the main drag and a group of seven or eight face to face fundraisers working around Monument tube station.  This last group seems to be in that spot regularly, raising funds for a different major charity each time.

I was approached but was in a hurry and so said “no thanks” three times before I felt the need to be more assertive.  At which point I was told that he was only doing his job and that he was really surprised I didn’t care about the cause in question.

So, here’s my point to add to the debate:

If face to face fundraising is to be successful in the future, I believe it needs to be carried out sympathetically.

Not sympathetic to the cause or the charity, but sympathetic to the public.  Like all my fellow commuters that day, I had places to be and things on my mind.  This is amplified for the return journey when people are thinking about home, family, friends etc. after a typically busy and often long working week.  Add that to the fact that it cannot be sensible to expect people to engage with more than 14 different groups in a 10 minute walk!

I don’t want to see laudable causes reduced to street furniture but I’m afraid that’s what they were.  Now imagine being a regular commuter and seeing what I saw every single working day… how much sympathy with the various causes are those commuters going to have?  How long will it take for them to just switch off completely and ultimately treat every cause that rotates through their route with indifference?

Motorists and haulage companies are joining forces all over the country to demand that utility companies organise themselves to stop roads being dug up every other week and causing environmentally damaging and expensive congestion.  Perhaps it’s time for councils and street fundraisers to work together to be equally sympathetic to travellers, commuters, tourists and the public in general around busy spots

Kevin is the founder of Bottom Line Ideas and has a deep-rooted passion for ideas that actually work in the real world. Those ideas help charities of all shapes and sizes to get their stories and messages to the audiences they need to hear them. And then persuade them to act!

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