“How to Give” is a monthly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, tweet @FancyLansie.
THIS MONTH’S QUESTION:
Since the election, I’ve noticed more activists/fundraisers/volunteers on the street asking for money on behalf of charities and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Aren’t they being paid to do it, and if so, doesn’t that mean my donation is going to them and not to helping people? It seems suspect. Is it a wise idea to give to them?
Those bright-eyed do-gooders with the binders and the t-shirts asking you if you “have a minute for the environment?” Those are paid canvassers, and you’re right — they are being compensated for their time. They are not volunteers.
Generally, canvassers work for a for-profit company that has been hired by a nonprofit for a certain period of time. Canvassers are almost always short-term contractors who work for eight hours a day and are paid a flat hourly rate (usually $8-10) plus incentives. Each day, they must earn a specified quota of donations (usually several thousand dollars) or they are fired.
The incentives that canvassers earn can vary. Some companies will compensate with a percentage above the quota — so 15 percent of whatever you raise after you’ve earned your $2,000 daily quota, for example. Others will do performance bonuses — an extra $100 for every five people who are signed-up, or $50 for every $1,500 raised. That kinda thing.
Why do I bring this up? Because this variability makes it difficult to figure out exactly how much money is being spent on fundraising versus how much is being raised. Without knowing that number, it’s hard to say whether it’s “wise” to give in this way.
You don’t want to donate $10 if it’s costing the nonprofit $10 just to get you to give, right? That means no dollars for the sick kids, hurt puppies or struggling grasslands! But if it cost a nonprofit $1 to get you to give $10 … well then it seems like a pretty smart way to raise funds for important cause, ya know?
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It’s got its merits. But it’s also controversial. Personally, I don’t give to paid canvassers. Here are a few reasons why:
- I want to connect. Canvassers are trained to speak on behalf of the nonprofit they’re representing, but tend not to have any skin in the game beyond a paycheck. I crave a personal connection within my philanthropy — I want to know why you care and why I should care, too. That relationship matters to me.
- I want to do my research. Within my own giving, I consider lots of angles — not only if the nonprofit is effective, but if it’s innovative. I want to see how it tells its story, hear from its constituents and understand the team that’s making it all happen. I can’t find out all that information in five minutes, on the street, while I’m off to get coffee.
- I love to give locally. Paid canvassers are most often working for large, national organizations. Personally, I feel a greater sense of pride and accountability when I give locally. It means I can attend the nonprofit’s events, see the impact within my community, and I’m more apt to follow its achievements.
As you can see, I’ve got some issues with the entire model. Therefore, whenever a canvasser asks me for a donation, I smile, politely tell them no, thank you, and continue on my way. I can’t tell you to do the same — we all give in our own way — but I would definitely consider other means of giving.
That said! No matter what, we should all remember that these people are working long hours, outside, on their feet, and facing a seemingly endless stream of rejection. It’s a rough gig.
So even if you’re telling them no, consider doing it with a smile. Smiles are free.-30-
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