Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Don't be one of "Those People"

Glossary of canvassing terms:
Rap: The conversation you have at a door.
Contact: The person you speak to at a door.
Turf: The neighborhood or area in which you work.
Burb: The van or suburban vehicle that delivers you to turf.

Last night I did sides with Rob, a clean-cut tall and handsome guy in his middle twenties. His twin brother, Eric, also works for Clean Water Action. Eric is like seventeen minutes older and it fascinates me how Eric projects the classic personality traits of an oldest child and Rob projects the personality traits of a youngest child. He's fun. He's easy going. He's nice to everybody. And on top of that, he's cute. Who wouldn't want him at the door?

When we "do sides" we share a street. One of us takes the houses on one side, the other takes houses on the other side. We repeat this pattern until we finish the turf and then work on callbacks. A nice thing about doing sides is that you work as a team, giving each other high fives as appropriate and encouraging words as needed to keep each other's energy focused and positive.

I thought we were going to make a great team -- two youngest children (actually Eric and Rob have a much-younger half sister, but as I said, he projects that enthusiastic and warm youngest-child energy) canvassing in a nice neighborhood in Chelsea. Chelsea has become something of a miniture Ann Arbor (without the University and the residual culture from events such as Hash Bash and the Naked Mile). Chelsea's a cool town -- with Jeff Daniel's Purple Rose Theater, lots of kayaks, canoes and small sailboats in people's driveways, tons of original artwork apparent from the doorstep, gardens. This is turf where you would expect to find tons of supporters. And we did find quite a few supporters. We did OK. We made our basic financial goals for the night. But we ran into a problem.

The problem we encountered last night in Chelsea is a common problem: People who don't give money at the door to anybody -- no matter how much they believe in and support the cause.

There were tons of those people in this neighborhood. Rob and I kept encountering them and it's so frustrating. They say, "can you leave me something I can mail in" or "isn't there somewhere I can donate on the internet" or "can't you mail me something" or "won't you send me something by e-mail?"

Clean Water Action has a long tradition of door-to-door education and fundraising. We go to neighborhoods annually (no sooner than every eight months and usually twelve months between visits) We are affiliated with a national Clean Water Action network and within the past few years our national campaign has begun contacting supporters by phone to do fundraising. That may turn some people off. Others seem to be relying on the phone calls from the national campaign now. Just about every organization operates this way these days. People get calls from all sorts of charities and organizations. And most of those organizations send information in the mail, too.

If you give to Clean Water Action over the phone, it helps the national campaign and someone in another state benefits from collecting your donation. If you give to Clean Water Action, or any other organization that canvasses door-to-door, you are supporting the local economy -- in fact, you are directly supporting the person who is standing on your door.

When we come around to the door, It's democracy in action. I am going to try to develop an effective rap for these people who prefer giving money over the phone or internet. Some people are, unfortunately, a bit insulting at the door -- as if they think we are going to run off with their donation or something. We always write reciepts, work with picture identification cards and have local permits to canvas in every community we visit. I dress pretty well. In fact, I've decided to try out French manicures. I had a couple done at salons in the past and I always enjoyed that. Now that I am on a shoe-string budget, I had a friend explain to me how to do them my self. I find I am more successful at fundraising when my nails look nice.

I just wanted to say something about these people who "don't give to ANYBODY at the door" because it is a "personal policy."

If you are one of these people, rethink this policy. It's a really BAD policy. It's bad for democracy in general. It's bad for the local economy -- and it's absolutely the inverse of a "random act of kindness."

Frankly, I find it to be a bit insulting. I'm an educated woman. I worked for more than a decade as a journalist and can give people the inside scoop on lots of local and state issues. I know many lawmakers personally. I completed a fellowship in Great Lakes Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. I was born in Michigan. I love our state. I am a sailor. What else do these people want to know before they will feel comfortable parting with $20 for a cause they proclaim they support absolutely?

Seriously, don't be one of those people who looks a canvasser in the eye and tells them you support the cause but you have a pesonal policy not to give anything at the door.

It's a bad policy. Rethink it.


  1. Patty, that's assuming that the person telling you that they have a personal policy not to give anything at the door gives elsewhere. Sometimes, it's just a line for you to go away.

    My charity has volunteers making phone calls once or twice a year encouraging donations. Sometimes someone will say, oh yea, we already turned in our form and donation.

    I set up those bank deposits and access donor records to send out acknowledgment letters (but I don't have time to make phone calls). I look it up and see, um, you ought to check your checkbook register and your bank account, because I'm not seeing anything ... and I never do.

  2. That's a good point Chris; thanks for mentioning it. I agree it's probably a blow off. I don't mind being, blown off, either. I just get irritated with people who go on and on about how much they support the work and how much they agree -- but then they make excuses for why they don't give. It's particularly insulting to tell someone who is out there working in the cold and heat and all sorts of weather -- that you would rather give to the cause by way of the intenet or over the phone. So, my point is just to help people avoid being so insulting.

    A better answer is: "I am not going to donate. I would rather just go spend $5 on a Hot-and-Ready from Little Ceasars. I wish you would get off my porch. I find it irritating."

    And so on and so forth... when people pose as supporters but really aren't they waste time. It's OK to waste time, I suppose, but I find it really insulting when people look me in the eyes and tell me they won't give to a cause at the door.

    That's just me, though.

    Thanks for the comment.

    and to my other blog readers: I think I am starting to get the hang of commenting on my own blog -- but I have tried to comment on some of your blogs and found it difficult (i.e. Bea Spitz). I think some of you have comments disabled?

  3. Dear Patty,
    Maybe where you live, people are more trusting and trustworthy. In Philadelphia, there is no such thing as a canvassing permit. The people who come door to door often have no proof that they they are really working for the charity they claim. They'll show me a clipboard with a piece of black on white letter head. I could make that myself on my printer in a few minutes.
    I never donate by phone. I have no way of knowing that the person who is calling is really working for the charity they claim and won't run off with my credit card information and buy stuff for themselves. I've had somebody spend about $500 on my ATM card before I caught on, by checking my bank statement online.
    I only donate via the websites of the organizations I support. I want my money to go to support the causes I support. Also, I don't think it's a good idea to send children door to door collecting money for any reason. Some of them get mugged for their money.
    As far as I'm concerned, honest collectors are taking unnecessary risks, and I don't want to encourage them to continue the practice. Dishonest collectors don't deserve my money. No door-to-door solicitations, please!

  4. Lois: That would completely eliminate the opportunity for Clean Water Action to have face-to-face conversations with people to educate and inform them about the Great Lakes. We are Michigan's oldest and most respected Environmental Organization and have a 40-year history with passing important legislation to protect our waters in Michigan. We are the Heart of the Great Lakes Basin which has 22 percent of all the fresh water in the World -- a resource more precious than gold. So the work we do is very public, very well known and very grass roots. It is absolutely imparitive that we go door to door. Our average donation at the door is only about $15 but people who are exremely familiar with us and repatitive donors will give much more -- in the hundreds. We ALWAYS carry permits from the municipality where we work. We ALWAYS give reciepts to people and we ALWAYS carry photo identification. I suppose that somebody could fake these items but it would be a ton of work -- and the reciepts we give have our office phone numbers and website. So it strikes me as very strange and paranoid that someone wouldn't be willing to part with $5 or $20 support at the door when they proclaim genuine support for the cause. Again, canvassing provides local jobs, fuels the local economy and accomplishes much needed BIPARTISAN grass-roots political activity. I am very sorry to hear you feel so negatively about it and that you abide by the no solicitors policy. We canvas very near the city of Detroit and I frankly find the people in the suburbs closer to the city (which suburbanites percieve as extremely dangerous) St. Claire Shores, Grosse Pointe, Livonia, to be overall, more receptive to giving at the door than people who live in more rural areas and suburbs that are farther out. They give smaller amounts. I take lots of $2, $3 and $5 donations in the more urban settings -- but they totally appreciate the work and are rarely unfriendly, uptight or rude at the door.

    Peace and love and liberty to you in Philidelphia and thank you for sharing your opinion.