Gideon standing on a busy street. Short, dark blond hair and moustache, wearing black and a gray t-shirt.
All Photos: Bernardo Martin.
Life

10 Questions You Always Wanted to Ask a Street Fundraiser

It might be all for a good cause, but convincing people to give you money every day can be taxing.
January 8, 2021, 10:21am

This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.

People are often annoyed at Gideon* for the work he does, but not because he’s doing a bad job. The 20-year-old has the best of intentions – he raises money on the streets for World Vision, an agency helping various NGOs reach new donors. 

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After failing to get on to a social studies course at university, Gideon turned his part-time job as a street fundraiser into a full-time position, and he’s been standing around asking strangers for money for four to six days a week ever since.

Approaching hundreds of people who don’t want to talk to you every day sounds pretty soul-crushing, so I asked Gideon how he keeps his spirits up.

VICE: Hey Gideon. Are you often asked to fundraise for causes you don’t support?
Gideon: That’s never happened before. I stand by the organisation we’re promoting at the moment – they don’t spend a lot on additional costs, so most of the donations flow directly into projects. We’re also allowed to choose our projects. So far, I’ve always felt good about them.

Do you find yourself annoying at times?
Well, after hearing yourself talk for six or seven hours a day, yes, you do. I always try to be creative and develop individual approaches, but I use a lot of standard phrases. You have to introduce yourself over and over and repeat the same information. It’s a lot.

How do you feel about being pushy with people?
I wouldn't say I push people to do anything, I think my job is more about informing and raising awareness. I tell people about the organisation, introduce two of my favourite projects, and if they’re still enthusiastic after that, I sign them up to be a regular donor. If someone doesn't want that, I repeat why I think the project is necessary and suggest a smaller contribution. But if they refuse, I let them go. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad.

Gideon wearing a black trench coat, black shoes and pants and sitting on a step.

Gideon.

How much do you personally donate per month?
About €50 (£45). When I started this job, I decided it wasn’t OK to ask for support on the street without donating myself.

If this is so important to you, why don't you volunteer?
I do this four to six days a week. Each day I spend about seven hours on the street, drive one hour there and one back, then two hours of preparation and one hour of follow-up work. Sometimes I’m out for 12 hours a day. Let’s just say it’d be difficult to make ends meet.

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How do you convince people to donate?
There’s a certain flow to the conversation, just like in any other sales job. I try to show an interest in people and find out who I'm dealing with. I make the conversation feel comfortable and personable. 

I hear objections all the time, like people saying they want to ask their partner first or they don’t want to give out their data on the street. I usually explain it will take some time until the first donation, so there’s plenty of time to talk to their partner. I also tell them that public trust is everything for an NGO, so they can’t afford to misuse people’s data, for example. You learn how to notice if someone is more emotional or rational, for example, and how to get through to them. 

 Some wordings are more pleasant – for instance, we say you can always "stop" instead of "cancel", or we call your bank account number the "magic numbers". It just sounds less bureaucratic. But none of this is complex psychology. You just need to be confident.

Do you lie to people?
No. I pull up some statistics from memory, like how many child labourers there are worldwide, stuff you can read up about online. If someone notices what you’re saying is wrong, you can lose their donation very quickly. We can't afford that.

Are you paid by the hour or on commission?
Both. There’s a fixed basic salary, but that's not a lot [the minimum wage, €9.35 (£8.42) in Germany]. I think the system is fair. If you’re good, you can definitely make a living from it.

Gideon standing on a busy street.

Gideon standing on a busy street.

How much does your boss pressure you to meet targets?
Not much. I think everyone wants to sign new donors every day because you don’t want to cost the NGO money. If you haven't been up to scratch for a few days, someone will talk to you about it. We try to see what’s going on, what can be improved. If you haven't signed anyone up in a whole week, maybe the job just isn’t for you. But we care about your motivation and commitment. If you’re really enthusiastic, sometimes you just have to stay longer than what you’re being paid for, just to sign someone up for the day.

Do you feel guilty when you sign someone up who can’t actually afford it?
I don’t try to convince those people at all. Although, I have to say, saying you have no money is relative. I’m sure most people in this country have at least €10 to spare for a good cause if they want to. I've already approached people who were a little tight financially, but I let them know they should just try things out and they can cancel any time. 

*Surname omitted for privacy reasons.