Adventures in Fundraising

With the death of Rocky, our trip plans changed a bit. We decided to stay in Perth for a few months and find some casual work to make sure we were financially capable of doing Southeast Asia and getting to New Zealand. We found a room to rent in an apartment in East Perth with some other travelers and settled down for the job hunt.

After a week and a half of searching Courtney scored herself a part time gig as a cocktail waitress at a swanky joint called Bobèche. The place is dedicated to fancy cocktails and expensive liquors with something of a 1920’s prohibition theme. It is certainly a bit “hipster,” if you will, but a good place none-the-less.

And I, well I landed myself a spot as a charity fundraiser for a fundraising company. To say I was a bit surprised when they called me back, the second of return calls for a fundraising position, would be something of an understatement. I have absolutely no fundraising experience and very little sales and promotions experience. I figured there had to be others better suited then I, but call me back and offer me a job they did. My journey into the world of charity fundraising began the next day.

Now I will be the first to admit I was a bit skeptical from the get go. I consider myself to be an introvert through and through, and I figured this is the type of job much more suited to extroverts. Though I do enjoy meeting new people, I wasn’t particularly excited about the idea of talking with random people all day long. Also, I could not be sure how I would take essentially being rejected over and over again as a job. To make a long story short, I knew it was going to be a challenge in many ways. This is partly why I took it I think.

Training was quite informative, and well run. The area manager is a large and extremely friendly British chap. He is essentially a 6’4” cheeky teddy bear, who also happens to be a great fundraiser. The training consisted largely of going over the job and dealing with all the basic info of getting hired to a new company, getting to know the charity we would be working with first, and getting the basic pitch personalized and memorized. We also went over some basic objection handling and a few other things that would be important to know for our first day.

There were two other girls and myself that had been hired. I quickly found out I was by far the oldest person in the room, which turned out to be something of an advantage. I have had a few more years to develop things like a work ethic, good working habits like always being a few minutes early, and the confidence to be honest with myself and those I work with early in the relationship so we all know where the others stand. Steve did a great job teaching us and was one of the most encouraging people I have ever met. He is certainly a bit of a flatterer, which is something that comes in handy in this job. Of course, the real thing was nothing like training. In retrospect, there was no way they could have totally prepared us for the job, but they did the best they could.

My first week as a fundraiser was an experience unlike anything I have ever had, but the first day was certainly the hardest. Now you all have probably had some experience with fundraisers in the past, but let me explain how it goes from our end. Perhaps after reading this you will think differently of them next time you see one.

This particular company does their fundraising in malls and shopping centers. I was given into the hands of a capable fundraiser and on the spot trainer, Connor who is also British funny enough, and headed off to the mall. We were given a table that was placed in the center of the walkway near one end. Essentially, we stood by this table all day did the best we could to talk to as many people as we could get to stop. What it really turned out to be was more like standing in the middle of a walkway and watching every one do the best they could to pretend we weren’t there. They would purposefully avoid eye contact, ignore us, say no as soon as we said hello, and occasionally even stop and turn around as soon as they saw us.

The funniest thing to me was watching most everyone walk nearly up against the walls so they could be as far away from us as possible when they passed by. We were pariahs and I now know something about what that feels like. It is not easy to be happy when you are getting either rejected or completely ignored by 90% of the people you see in a day. There are even the occasional fuck you that came our way. It was an eye opener to say the least.

The first two days were largely an exercise in learning how to ignore the rejections and continue to smile and try and stop as many people as possible using smiles, jokes, handshakes, and compliments. For those who are bound and determined not to stop, I at least aim to get a smile.

Trying to get people to stop is the first, and in many ways the hardest part of the game. Once they stop the real work begins. First we try to get to know the person, just like you would if you were meeting any one for the first time. We ask about their likes, where they are from, what they like to do, if they know any jokes, music preferences, and other basic things that help us connect to them. We also have to make sure they are eligible donors during this period, which means they are over 21, are going to be around OZ for the next two years, and they or their permanent partner has a steady job working more then 25 hours a week. After that all is established, then comes the pitch.

During the pitch we tell them all about the charity, what we do to help, where we work, and other such important information. This is also the time were we try to make the person realize how serious the problems are that we are working to solve. The last bit is often the most important, and it is the part that makes the job largely worth doing. We empower the donors so they realize they can make a difference. It is this part that, done right, makes people happy to donate. And this is not just blowing smoke either. The charities we fundraise for are great charities. They do life-altering work all over the world, and it is the donors themselves who are largely to thank for much of the good that is done. In my eyes, and any one who works for or benefits from the work of these charities will tell you their donors are heroes. My job is largely to make them realize that is the case, and make them feel like the heroes they are.

Like I said before, the first week was an experience. I got my first sign up Wednesday, which felt awesome. I got three more by the end of the week, which is huge because that means I got off my retainer and am officially part of the team. I am now much more comfortable with standing around all day trying to talk to people and getting rejected. I talked to quite a few interesting people, which was mostly great (some people are amazingly offensive and just down right rude). I learned a lot about the charity and non-profit world. I learned a lot about a wide assortment of people, and how they respond to fundraisers.

Most importantly, I learned a lot about myself. When I started, I wasn’t sure how well I was going to do. There were certainly moments during the first few days when I considered quitting. I slept terribly for the first few nights because I was being really hard on myself for not getting any pledges. It took quite a bit of work on my attitude and body language before I was able to feel even a little bit comfortable doing the job. I still have a lot of work to do on controlling my facial expressions and voice tone during my pitch. I have a ton of work to do on objection handling, and most of all on my attitude. I find it hard some times to believe in what I am doing. In essence, I have never liked telling people what to do. I have never been one who has any desire to do anything but educate people and let them make their own decisions. I would never have considered myself persuasive. But that is what I am doing now, and I have every intention of learning to do it well. For one, I cannot let myself half ass the job, and two the skills will serve me well for the rest of my life. It does help that what I am selling is help for people in need. Lord knows all of us in the developed world are lucky as hell and have way more then we need, even if we are not always willing to admit it. Working towards helping others can be quite rewarding.

We went on this trip partly for the learning experiences, and this is certainly one of them. It will be hard, it will be discouraging, and it will frequently be a challenge, but in the end I am learning great skills and helping others in the process, and it will be one hell of an experience. What more can one really ask for?

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