On hunting signatures

I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations for nearly eight years now. Mostly in the communications/outreach/programming side of things. Briefly on the development side. I mean, I’ve written my fair share of grants (successfully even!) but not as much on the donation fundraising side of things.

At nonprofit networking events, it’s not uncommon for me to hear fundraising-focused staff somewhat dismiss those lucky jerks who only have to work on awareness. Haha, I say, as I pull at my collar.

Whenever I have had to solicit donations, financial or in-kind, I get nervous. My hat goes off to the successful fundraising professionals who have such a terrific energy around it. Seriously.

Last night I volunteered with the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario‘s NextGen group and the University of Waterloo’s Heritage Resource Centre. Clipboard in hand, I went door to door in Toronto’s beautiful historic Annex district to ask homeowners and tenants about heritage.


Now, asking someone for two minutes of their time to answer some questions about heritage isn’t the same as asking someone for a donation, but I still had that queasiness. I was, uninvited, visiting private residences to take some of their time. I know how I feel when I see someone at my door that I don’t know.

Oh no, they want something from me. I don’t even know what it is they want, or if I’d be happy to give it, but I didn’t invite them here and now they want something from me.

And now that person at the front door was me!

A little while back I wrote about getting uncomfortable. As I walked through the Annex, I told myself the worst thing that could happen is they say no. Well, really the worst thing that could happen is they say no and be mean about it. Which did happen. Just a few times. Most of the times, no one came to the door.

But right at the end of my route, this fellow was delighted to speak to me. An alumnus of the University of Waterloo, he asked a bit about the Heritage Resource Centre before I even got to the first question. And he was happy to answer, and elaborate, on the questions I had. What was supposed to be a 2-minute survey became a lovely conversation about heritage and city planning.

And I headed away feeling two things: one, that I was grateful that I ended with him, rather than started with him, and two, that one good interaction like that makes all the not-so-good ones worth it.

While, like I said, I’ve never solicited donations in this manner, I did work on summer in a sales centre for a Toronto theatre. It was not a great experience so I don’t want to name names. But Glengarry Glen Ross looked like a cake walk compared to my time there. Again, the worst thing that could happen on a sales call was they could say no, and be mean about it. And sometimes they did, and sometimes they were. But sometimes someone was really happy to buy, and buy lots.  I had some genuinely delightful chats with people, and it made my day. And it made me less anxious about the next call.

Sure, the next call/ask/door might lead to someone who doesn’t want to talk to you, and might be mean about it. But it might be great, and you might learn something wonderful about a stranger. And while the bad experiences might be as bad as the good experiences are good, in the end, don’t let the anxiety stop you.

Oh, and after a session of asking (for signatures, donations, sales, what have you) it never hurts to regroup with fellow volunteers and staff over a cold one.


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