Lending a hand
When I’m strolling down a street and pass by people standing on a corner dressed in brightly coloured garb and shaking figurative town crier bells about causes like the Red Cross or Greenpeace, I instantaneously dissolve into an avoidant puddle of awkwardness and confusion.
It’s not because I’m actively against these organizations; I think that their strides towards ecological action or disaster relief are noble in theory. The problem is that I have absolutely no idea how to engage with someone collecting money for a non-profit organization as a paid job.
I run away. I ignore them. I don’t have anything against these people, I just don’t really want to engage in another awkward 20-minute conversation with a paid employee as they ladle on piles of guilt about my indulgant Western ideals. I have a lot of trouble countering the charge that I could be using my coffee money to pay for schoolhouse bricks, even when I know that my $30 donation—at least a percentage of it—will go to pay these fundraisers.
“If someone is under the impression that public outreach is volunteer, they obviously haven’t asked an employee, or visited a website for that matter,” says Adam Faber, a Dalhousie student and former engager of the public for the SickKids Foundation through fundraising organization Public Outreach. True to Faber’s claim, it is stated plainly on the Public Outreach Group’s website: “We believe that hiring the right people for your cause, providing excellent training and compensating them fairly results in the highest quality donor interaction.”
While I’d like to side with Faber in believing that there is a forcefully drawn distinction between volunteering and public outreach, the devil’s advocate in me is thrashing around screaming, “Yeah, dude, but they don’t explicitly tell people they’re NOT volunteers, either!”
Unless you really question someone about it, they’re not going to let on that they’re being paid to meet a donation quota and just flashing you their charming smirks and small talk for a sympathetic drop in their satchel. It’s no fault of the good intentioned employee—it’s part of the overall marketing schtick.
University students, especially in this surge of economic downturn, are pretty much swooping up any job they can get. So why is it that we feel this sense of duplicity or, dare I say, “shysterness,” from this engagement of the public?
“I worked for Public Outreach in Ontario,” says Faber. “I raised money for the SickKids Foundation. I made a living wage and paid for some schooling while making a difference for a deserving group. I had a quota to hit, and I stopped making that quota, so I was let go…but I certainly don’t blame Public Outreach for letting me go.”
But to me there’s just something fundamentally perverse about a seemingly charitable and non-profit organization disposing of employees who fail to rake in enough donations. The problem is that most of us choose to take our frustrations out on these innocent, well-meaning sidewalk seducers. When the majority of the employees you hire to spread the word of your cause—something they would most likely do anyway out of the goodness of their heart (and many do)—are still willing to laud your efforts even after you fire them for not being as machiavellian or debonair as you’d like them to be to stir up donations, don’t you think you should take a moment and reflect on how this ruthless business model might not be completely congruent with your mission statements of charitability and support?