A few months ago I was approached by a door-to-door fundraiser. It was dark, it was cold, and it was raining. The fundraiser, not bothered by these circumstances at all, told me a beautiful story about the charity he worked for. I believed him and decided to become a donor. Was it the rain? Or was I the perfect target for this charity? Or did I just meet one hell of a good door-to-door fundraiser?
Being a major donor fundraiser, working donors through years of research, cultivation, asking, negotiating and (if all goes well) stewardship, I wondered if I would maintain without my strategy. Would I succeed in asking money to people I’ve never met before? I decided to test my luck and volunteered for 3 different charities. These are my experiences and the lessons I learned.
Test number one: collecting money door-to door in my own street. One week before the collecting week, the coordinator of the charity visited me at home to make sure I received all needed information. We looked at the information package and spoke about the charity. I was told what to expect, based on the experience of the last couple of years. The coordinator responded to my request to collect in my own street, where I know most of the people. I had one week to visit all 56 houses and could pick any time I wanted. So I chose to ring the doorbells at dinnertime, when my own working day was done.
I decided to test if I could influence the results and took my 4 years old son with me as I visited the first 28 houses of my street. Only 2 times I got a NO for an answer. Most of the people were friendly and decided to donate, sometimes even without asking me what kind of charity I volunteered for. They knew me and they seemed to trust me. The second part of the street I decided to leave my son at home to see if that would influence the results. But it started to rain heavily. To my surprise, again I received a NO only 2 times. And I also got an umbrella from a friendly neighbor. At the end of the week I sat besides the coordinator at her home, we drank tea and counted the money. I knew how much money I raised and we celebrated.
Test number two: collecting money in front of a supermarket. A few days ahead of the collecting-week, the coordinator called me to say that I could not collect in my own street (what I had requested for). She needed someone in front of a supermarket just outside my own neighborhood. The supermarket was closed at times I was free from work, so I had no choice as to start collecting at the last possible day of the collecting week, on Saturday. I was asked to pick up the collecting box at the coordinators place, and I received a bag with information I could read if I wanted to.
That Saturday it was cold, it was raining, so I was in a good mood. My son did not want to join me so I was not able to see if his presence would help to raise money. Soon I found out that standing in front of a supermarket was something else. I was not in charge of ringing the bell and looking people in the eye. I had to work hard to get any eye contact at all. People tried to avoid me, they wanted to get their groceries and were not so much interested in hearing my story. The people that did not avoid me, complained to me about high charity salaries, overhead and that helping others is meaningless. To make it worse, 2 supercool dudes aged 12, joined me in collecting money at my spot, but for another charity. People started to drop their coins into the boxes of my competitors. Could the presence of my 4 years old have competed with these two? I bet, but too bad I did not test it!
The rain did not do work for me this time: I was getting wet but so were the people I asked for money! After a couple of hours competing with the rain and the 2 friendly boys, I decided to quit and go home. The money in the box was counted by the coordinator herself and I received an e-mail within 5 days, informing me how much money I collected. It did not make me very proud.
Test number three: selling lottery tickets at an event for housewives (De Huishoudbeurs). I volunteered for a Dutch service club that organized a third party event at De Huishoudbeurs. They had collected a lot of (sponsored) small prizes. By selling lottery tickets, money for charity was raised. I was ready to rock and roll! I received a XXL T-shirt from the service club to wear, a pile of lottery tickets but no briefing. I decided to run another test on my own. The first 2 hours my pitch was Do you want to buy lottery tickets? You always win a prize and you support charity at the same time”. I had that supermarket-feeling of being avoided again.
The last 2 hours I changed my pitch into: “Do you want to support charity by buying lottery tickets? You always win a prize!” The second pitch worked so much better: before people decided to say NO to me, I had already said the word ‘charity’ and people were much more interested. I volunteered for half a day and at the end of the week I received an email to inform me how much money we had raised altogether. My tribute to that amount was not that big, but with all the volunteers together we did a great job.
Lesson nr. 1: Briefing is everything. In case you know what the charity stands for, you can represent the charity better because you have more confidence. For coordinators, this means that you take enough time for briefing and you respond to questions. A confident person counts for 2.
Lesson nr. 2: In case you are asking money to people that know you a bit (because you work in an area you know well), you are more successful. People trust you and have more patience to hear your story. In case you coordinate volunteers, let them cover their own streets. It works!
Lesson nr. 3: Don’t be just You and the Collecting Box. Make use of circumstances like rain, snow, dinnertime and cute looking children or pets that want to accompany you.
Lesson nr. 4: It’s more fun if you’re part of the success. Help counting the money, celebrate targets you’ve reached. Coordinators: make it personal and stay in touch.
Lesson nr. 5: Again: briefing is everything! The coordinator should know the best pitch in the world, so ask for it. And coordinators: share best practices. You get only one chance to ring that bell, get the attention, and pitch your story.
And finally, lesson nr. 6: The door-to door fundraiser I met was well trained, had a smart pitch and rang my doorbell when it was raining. How could I resist?