I stopped a fundraiser in the street the other day. He was hurrying by on some seemingly urgent business of his own so he didn’t really want to stop and talk to me but I persuaded him to give me just a few minutes because I had something rather important to say.
So he stopped, shrugged with cheerful resignation, gave in, folded his arms and listened. He was a good-looking bloke, tall, bright-eyed. I took to him instantly, so discarded my pre-planned script because what I had to say had to come from my heart. I summoned my courage, my most cheerful internal feelings, strapped on my broadest smile and widest eyes and said, “Listen, believe me, what you do is truly wonderful. Really, Dave – may I call you Dave? – really, it is. Each day, in all weathers, you and your friends take to the streets – for me.
“There you’ll stand, hours on end, surrounded by hostile hordes, armed only with a clipboard and a great cause, striving against a sea of hostile indifference to engage faces from the crowd, to reach in and catch someone’s interest long enough to get your chance to talk, to introduce the lucky few to the joys of giving. You give a priceless service to our society, Dave. As those grey, hunched, uninvolved folk shuffle to and from their daily toil you give people you’ve never met before nor will again an opportunity – for just a few minutes – to do something selfless and good. You give them the priceless chance to change the world.
“I just want to say a big thank you, Dave, on behalf of my fellow fundraisers. Mostly we fundraise in the warm and dry, behind our spreadsheets and our desks. We never see the cold, dead eyes of the potential donor, never have to rely on just our skill and wit and gift of the gab to convert that dull stare into passionate belief and practical care. Yet we call you chugger and treat you badly. It is unforgivable really. We should be flogged.
“Thank you, Dave, you street fundraiser, because our profession couldn’t survive without you. Fifteen years ago you saved our bacon in donor acquisition. Tens of millions of new direct-debit-backed donors have since joined our causes, younger donors too. Those that stay have donated and will donate hundreds of millions of pounds, making a transformational difference to all major social issues. All thanks to you and the legion of keen youngsters like you, who do this job that we won’t do ourselves.
“Of course you’ve pissed a few people off in the process. Tell me one social change worth having that didn’t ruffle feathers, or meet a brick wall, or cause a bit of offence? All in a good cause, I say.
“You’ve done something else. You’ve brought in to fundraising an injection of young blood inspired and fired up to spread the word about giving, to get the philanthropic message across. Yours isn’t the easiest of jobs. It takes courage and breeds resilience. Many street fundraisers will go on to become the backbone of our profession. That has to be good.
“Get along now Dave, and enjoy your day. But know this, my good thoughts and gratitude go with you in your work, every step, as do the support, warm wishes and donor development budgets of fundraisers up and down the land. We now know we couldn’t do without you. And from now we’ll do all we can to support you, so that street fundraising can evolve and thrive.”
Ken Burnett is a fundraising author and consultant.