Discovering the wonders of wander

I Love And Hate Street Fundraising in New Zealand

As part of my goal to overcome my fear of selling and confrontation whilst on my Working Holiday stint in New Zealand, I took up a job as a street fundraiser. What is it, you ask? Simply put, I am one of those annoying people on the street asking you for money. I am that stranger you avoid, for fear that I charm you into buying something you don’t need, or worse, guilt you into signing up for a monthly donation to charity.

This is a job that I personally think is tougher than sales. Sales people offer customers a tangible product to take home in exchange for their money. What do fundraisers offer? Good feelings, fairy dust, imaginary rainbows, and good karma.

“I’m sure you can afford just a dollar a day for as long as you can to give these people their life back, yes!? Imagine all lives you’ll be changing every month! Amazing!”

Goofing around at work.

Goofing around at work.

At the end of my three month stint, street fundraising turned out to be a job that I love as much as I hate.

I love this job.
The beautiful outdoors is my office. With a different location on my roster everyday, I get to see parts of town that I would otherwise never visit. I’ve worked at the flashy suburb of Titirangi, where town folk spend their Tuesday afternoon sipping flat whites at the corner café. I’ve also stood on the streets of South Auckland, where the poor, disabled, and retired mill outside the Community Link waiting to collect their unemployment benefit. I’ve seen the homeless come and go, heard fights on the street, avoided stumbling drunks in the morning, marvel at teen moms ushering their pack of children, and took a double take at a girl walking her pet rat to the vet.

"They are actually cleaner than humans."

“They are actually cleaner than humans.”

I hate this job.
The miserable outdoors is my office. It’s bad enough that it’s winter, the New Zealand weather is as moody as a girl with PMS. There was that Monday where it was warm and sunny in the morning, hailing in the afternoon, and drizzling all evening. I reluctantly embrace the gale force winds, the pouring rain, the fleeting sun. I’m cold and miserable, I can’t feel my face and my fingers are frozen. I force the most natural smile I can, hoping someone would pity me enough to stop for me. But let’s face it, who would want to stop for a chat when their snot is turning into a popsicle?

I love this job.
People love me. They make time for me and we would delve into some of the most amazing conversations I’ve ever had. There was a grandfather who told me how much he loves his late wife; a prison convict told me why he robbed a bank; a single mother told me how her daughters taught her to be a grown up. I’ve been blessed by free-spirited hippies, told bullshit by druggies, given food by kindred spirits. I’ve unwittingly made the day of many lonely souls, simply by asking “how are you?” I remember one middle-aged pony-tailed man with a nice smile on his face who broke into tears when I told him “Hi, you look happy today!” While tears welled up in his eyes, he gently revealed that his parents had just passed away. “I’m just happy that I was caught smiling, it’s been a very tough time for me… Thank you.” No, thank you.

"I thought I would never walk again," Lotti told me about his accident that broke both his legs.

“I thought I would never walk again,” Lotti told me about his accident that broke both his legs.

I hate this job.
People hate me. I’ve been told to fuck off, I’ve been called a beggar. “Not today.” “Can I go now?” “What do you want?” They don’t have the time of the day for me, they won’t stop, they won’t even look me in the eye. They pretend that I don’t exist, clearly avoiding the pathway that I’m on. They “coincidentally” answer a phone call right as I make eye contact. They eye me as if I am scum of the earth. When I awed at the adorable guide dog of a wheelchair-bound lady, she rudely replied, “He is trained to ignore you.” I get rejected again, and again, and again, until my confidence and self-esteem is shredded into nothingness. 

I love this job.
It’s fun. People give the funniest excuse to avoid talking to you. “I’m very busy,” they say as they slide into the gambling den next door. “I can’t afford a dollar a day,” they say as they drive away in their Mazdas. “I’m getting late,” they say as they walk away with the speed of a turtle on crutches. Fair enough.

I hate this job.
It’s not fun. It’s stressful and demotivating, when you haven’t been able to get even one donor despite exhausting every single damn trick in the book. It’s boring, when you are in a deadly quiet location with not a single person to pitch to. It’s frustrating, as this job is 60% luck. You just have to wait for the right person with the right mindset and a kind heart to come by.

Another day of being ignored.

Another day of being ignored.

I love this job.
Guys give the sweetest compliments. I learnt this on my very first day of work when a silver-haired man with a Russian accent walked up to me. “Ohmygod, are you okay? I think you just fell down from the sky, you are an angel.” Ohhhhkay, calm down gramps, you could’ve served in the same war as my grandpa.

I hate this job.
Guys are creeps. I learnt this on my second day of work when a 40-something-year-old man walked up to me. “How much?” he asked. A look of confusion grew on my face as he eyed me up and down. I haven’t even introduce myself yet. He continued, “Yes, I want. How much?” Ohhhhkay, calm down creep, not every Chinese girl standing on the street is a prostitute.

I love this job.
I am insanely touched by people’s kindness and eagerness to help. While there are many who see fundraisers as pests of the street, the New Zealand community as a whole believes in charity. They have so much empathy for the hardship of others and readily ask “how can I help?” I’ve met mothers who are struggling with children in the hospital and yet they want to spare some change for the less fortunate. I’ve met fathers who have seven children to feed, yet do not think twice about helping others. Ironically enough, it is the lower income community who are more eager to donate than the those in their fancy suits and car.

I hate this job.
I personally feel conflicted when it comes to the question of “where does the money go?” The debate on the integrity of how the funds are used is one that played angel and devil in my head. Many non-profit organisation in New Zealand outsource their street fundraising efforts to third party fundraising or marketing agencies. Only 40% to 60% of every month’s donation raised is given to the charity, while the remaining  goes to the fundraising company. Romanticised by the idea that their donation will go directly to the charity’s projects, people are uncomfortable with the notion that a huge chunk of their money goes into administration and payments to the fundraising company instead. Surely their money would be put to better use if they donate directly to the charity instead of a charming stranger met on the street?

On the flip side, fundraising companies, who are for-profit organisations, justify their work by saying that they are the one allocating the resources needed to find ongoing supporters. Nobody wakes up and go “I’ll make a donation to charity today! Let me just pop onto their website!” Fundraising agencies make sure every single day, there are people on the ground creating awareness about the organisation and inspiring the common man to give a little. If it weren’t for fundraisers, the charity would not be getting the funds needed to make sure they can continue with their cause.

I will never forget my very first sign up - a very kind 61-year-old lady who had just finished gambling at Sky Tower. She is a full time grandma and part time seamstress.

I will never forget my very first sign up – a very kind 61-year-old lady who had just finished gambling at Sky Tower. She is a full-time grandma and part-time seamstress.

This is a job that you develop a love-hate relationship with. There are good days where you are absolutely loving life, and bad days where you countdown the minutes till when you can go home to your heater.

In the span of three months, I have raised a projected amount of $170,000 for the charity I represented. Most importantly, I have learnt more than I intended to, not so much about sale techniques, but lessons on life, love, and compassion from the people I have been so lucky to have had ephemeral conversations with.

Have you had any experience with street fundraising? Tell me how it went for you.

Comments

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