Fundraising – How not to ask for money

by Paul Goodchild on February 17, 2011

Statue Hand

Last week I had an door-to-door salesman encounter that even today, still irks the shit out of me when I think of it.

Picture the scene:  I’m at home, minding my own business – likely being very productive on twitter no doubt – when the doorbell rings.

Please, someone else will get it – I saw the guy come up the driveway and I’d decided already I didn’t want what he was selling.  Nope, no answer.  So he raps hard on the door this time.  I’m soft and furry under this tough exterior and I gave him the benefit of the doubt.

He greeted me with a raggedy old plastic ID card hanging off the end of outstretched arm.

Do you remember that trick you did as a kid where you’d test your blind spot using a dot drawn on a piece of paper?  Well he was clearly paying attention.  Depending on what way I moved my head the card would disappear – it was too far away to read it, and too close to say “Here mate, not so fast, let me see that properly.”  My eyesight was to be thrown into question, or my latent ability to trust strangers.

I missed his verbal intro because I was still registering the ID card in my face moments earlier.

Okay compose yourself.

I looked down.

Magically there had appeared in my hands a super-thin-A4-glossy-mag and a small novel-like book.

I looked up.

“…represent charity … blah blah … cancer.  For £4 … the book … blah blah … donate … blah blah.  It’s a good cause.  {pause}  Thank you so much.”

He had closed the deal, as far as he was concerned.

By now I was composed a little better and while I’m not given to outbursts of anger, there was a faint hissing sound escaping from my ears.

The easy option?  Hand him £4, donate to the charity and be done with it.

The difficult option?  Question.

He was manipulating me, plain and simple.  How?

  • He put the merchandise in my hand first. It’s difficult for the average Joe to hand them back and so they don’t.  They give in to the pressure and pay up.
  • It’s for a cancer charity; a “good cause”.  Cancer is a terrible thing and many of us have been affected directly by it.  If I don’t pay the measly £4 I’m a cheap, inconsiderate bastard.
  • £4.  It seems like hardly nothing at the end of the day.  But if it was hardly nothing to him, he’d have asked me for more. I don’t like manipulation

I wasn’t happy with the whole performance, and I chose to make a stand.  This middle-aged gentleman appeared, at least to me, to be accustomed to getting what he wants.

“Sorry,” I said, “what is this book exactly?”

“Err.”  (A stumble because he’s not used to being questioned about the books he’s flogging, and his tone suggested “how dare you question me squirt, just donate the money”), “It’s a Christian book about health and healing.”

Christian?  Now you’ve really got my goat, I thought.

I won’t bore you with the endless string of grievances I have with religion just now since I want to keep this story like my temper that day – short.  But suffice it to say, there was no fucking way he was getting £4 off me now.

What message was I intending to give here?  I’m a selfish prick – that I can’t spare £4 for people with cancer?


It’s not what you ask for, it’s how you ask for it.

I had dedicated 9 months last year volunteering at my own personal expense.  Believe me, it’s not about the £4.

But I’m premature with my rant.

I took a moment to both consider, and appear to further consider, his kind offer before I politely handed the book back to him and said “No, thank you.”

If the scene had ended then, I could have closed the door and thought nothing more about the day’s uncomfortable encounter.  But the man’s reaction nearly drove me to outright violence.

The look of disgust and over-exaggerated surprise at my being said “selfish prick” was almost too much to bear.  He actually had the nerve to say:

“Ahh, there’s not a lot of Christian material read in this house then?”

I translated that from the passive judgemental voice to mean:

“It’s fine, I understand. You’re an ignorant and selfish sinner who will burn in a lake of fire for all eternity.”

There’s incidentally a small library of Christian literature in the house, but the arrogance of this pious prick on my doorstep was beyond infuriating.

But he wasn’t finished.  He took the book back and suggested I buy the super-thin-A4-glossy-mag for £1.  At this stage I had to relent.  £1.  That’s easily worth getting rid of this whole situation?  Perhaps he’ll put a good word in and I’ll get away with just dipping my toes in the “fiery lake”.

And off he trotted.

Lessons to all fund raisers

I’ve done fund-raising in the past and I hope that I’ve checked all the boxes as I’ve gone along.  I don’t know where these “boxes” came from, perhaps they’re just my boxes.

When you’re asking people for their money:

  • Remind yourself that what’s important for you, isn’t always important for them.  And just because it’s a “good cause” doesn’t mean they have to donate
  • Don’t judge anyone for not donating to your cause.  Ever.
  • Do not equate religion with charity.  They’re fucking entirely different altogether.
  • Don’t skimp on the humble pie before you set off.
  • Don’t manipulate people.  Sure, appeal to their emotions and sense of peace & goodwill toward all men.  But when you use tactics like he did to me, by placing the books in my hands and then asking for money, it’s not cool.

It’s as simple as that.  The man that came to my front door failed with all of these.  Sure, his cause might have been a good one, but if I had have donated the money he asked for, I am communicating to him that his approach is permissible and fair.

He may not have gotten my message, but I feel better for having stood my ground.  Remember that you are under no obligation to donate your money or your time to anything for which you don’t feel the urge or the passion to do so.

It’s your money, and it’s your time.  Don’t take any notice of the judgement people lay at your feet.

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