Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Sounds of Salesmen (Of Salesmen!)


If you are out there fundraising on the mean streets, or occupying the quad of a regional university, trying your damnedest to raise funds for a truly good cause, then you should try not to act like a salesman.  Salesmen have no good causes.

1:30   I had half an hour before 600 class (teaching practicum) and I was near the main library, so I decided to see how quickly I could A) locate and check out a copy of an obscure book on paradox, and then B) get a veggie sandwich at the student center just across the plaza, and then C) shove said sandwich into my face while running to said 600 class.  I usually like to take my time, but the spring weather had me up for a challenge.

1:35  I found Paradoxia Epidemica quickly enough, and even snagged another curiosity (Auden's Viking Book of Aphorisms), owing to my temporary inability to remember how the Library of Congress call number system works.  Even with my extended browsing in the wrong section, and my perusal of the other books on Renaissance rhetoric and paradox, I made it down from the third floor and out the door with the sandwich still a possibility.

1:45  Across the plaza, down a few steps from the library, in a wide concrete sea where most of the clubs and organizations do their soliciting, hawking, or fundraising, stood three older students in yellow striped shirts.  I heard, as I approached, that they were doing something for human rights.  So when the middle stripey guy, directly in my sandwich-bound path, asked if I had a minute, I said, "Yes, but only a minute."

1:55 I trudged to 600, fuming, tummy rumbling, cursing the sounds of salesmen. I did not get a sandwich.

Between 1:45 and 1:55 I endured some of the sleaziest salesman looks, lines, and gestures I have ever had the displeasure of experiencing.  (Also note that 10 minutes is far more than a minute.) I'm not just angry because I was hungry (although that etched the anger on my stomach, a choleric organ it would seem!), and it's not just the sleaze that makes me object so much to those wasted ten minutes.  It is the lost opportunity for this human rights organization that causes me so much discomfort.  Apparently, even big, successful, nationwide charitable orgs are taking the wrong tack when it comes to getting money or even support from college students.

When fundraising at a college campus, charitable folks, here is what NOT to do:

-- DON'T send fundraisers who are working per sign-up or some other kind of commission.  Those are salesmen.  They suck.

-- DON'T send fundraisers who don't know a goddamn thing about what they're raising money for.  Or even where to find more information on the website.  Or even how to talk about the issue. The guy had a binder with maps explaining the issue.  Other than that he just had a lot of schmooze. 

-- DON'T encourage your fundraisers (who are headed to the boonies) to stress the "We're from Chicagooo" angle, as if that makes the charity better than anything local.  Okay, you don't know anything about what happens in DeKalb, you don't have any local members or offices for me to get involved with (and I might want to get involved!), and you think you're cooler than me.  Get out of my way I need a sandwich.

-- DON'T train fundraisers as simply fundraisers.  Your charitable organization needs to be open to other kinds of support, especially on a college campus.  There are only thousands of people there who are young, energetic, passionate, and who talk to other people every day.  An upperclassman could start a local chapter for the org.  A teaching assistant could have her students do a project on a current human rights issue (<-- um, that was me), or a women's studies/sociology/English/any kind of humanities professor could tell the hundreds of students in his classes about your event and your wonderful human rights efforts, and send droves your way.  All of these things could happen, not by manipulation and salesmanship, but by generating genuine interest in your genuine work.

Here's what you can do:

--DO have your fundraisers bring a takeaway: a brochure, a card, something.  It is such a sleazy tactic to not have anything to take away.  Real businesspeople (since you're thinking of yourselves as a business, I can see) have cards, and people presenting real products (in this case the product is human rights!) have literature.  Snake Oil salesmen don't have cards or pamphlets (although that would be a pretty funny business card), and neither did those lame-ass fundraisers. 

This is what could happen: A student takes your card, he calls you about setting up a local chapter.  A student takes your brochure with the color pictures comparing starving babies to happy humanitarian-assisted schoolchildren,  and she looks you up online.  She donates, and she downloads material to use for a project, and she takes that project to the Showcase of Student Writing, and thousands of students now know about your cause.  A teaching assistant (a-HEM!) takes your card and your brochure, and teaches a lesson about human rights (in the context of X...) and her student research groups choose to research gay marriage, Rwanda, modern slavery, etc.

--DO have your fundraisers talk like regular people.  They were graduate students, in the case of this org.  They must be MBAs, because they no longer speak human.

--DO teach your fundraisers the polite parting.  Nothing makes a salesman more salesman-y then that complete shutdown, turn away, when he sees you're about to go.  Normal people who have just been talking for ten minutes part from one another with niceties.  

--DO teach your city kids to be sensitive to the local-ness of places.  They can't impress everyone everywhere with "Chicagooo" (hipster pronunciation, without the slightest Chicago accent).  And they probably don't even realize that many people from small places would rather do things to help their own town.  The same laws the org is trying to overturn (laws that let employers fire employees because of sexual orientation) have probably affected DeKalb County, and rural northern Illinois, even if they can't imagine that.

--DO send people who do real work for the organization.  In smaller orgs, fundraisers are also people who donate their time.  They know about the org.  They are open to other ways of donating (time, advocacy, in-kind donations, etc).  Every charitable organization should be open to these non-monetary forms of assistance, especially at a college fundraiser.  We don't have any money.  But we have loud voices.

To close, and to sum up, here's what I scrawled in my notepad on my way back to Reavis Hall, empty-stomached:  BLOG!  Gay rights/human rights salesman guy.  Ugh!  Hungryyyy.  Don't they know?  Advocacy, ideas, voices, opinions, forums, volunteers, passion, local.

2 comments:

  1. When i was selling comedy tickets on the street, the green peace assholes would always show up wherever we were. Everyone knew we were selling something, so we would have fun with it but those green peace people, they were awful. And while trying to take peoples money, they would insult us. They always had superior attitudes, and I can't understand why any organization would hire people like that and ask them to do what they do. I feel your burning rage Ms. Byrd. I thought it was only like that in nyc.

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  2. It is sad when something that could be used to generate genuine support for important issues becomes nothing but a walking infomercial.

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I publish all the comments, the good, the bad and the ugly. Unless I have no idea what you're saying. If you want to email me (with only good I hope), I'm at rbyrd [at] niu [dot] edu.