It was that tantalising time in the early evening when the children are almost in bed and my feet are almost up. Then the bell rang. It was a door-to-door collector on behalf of a national children's charity which I had better not name. Straightaway he made me uncomfortable. There was something about his grubby white shirt and his dishevelled suit that conveyed aggression. He tried to smile at the children clustered restlessly at my feet before he launched in. "We need to collect £100,000 for ... children from this area,
he blurted out, flashing a sheet of A4 paper in a plastic folder with a picture of a blond head somewhere near the bottom. "Can you spare a few quid?
I couldn't see the details on his lapel badge and I was hardly bowled over. "Leave me a leaflet,
I offered, "and if I like what I read I'll send a donation."
"Can't do that, mate,
he replied, with a real edge in his voice. "It wouldn't be worth the cost of printing leaflets. You need to give me your money.
When I declined, he stomped off down the garden path and slammed the gate.
I assumed he was a con-man, but Niki in fund-raising at the charity confirmed he was genuine. She promised to make sure he did not work again for the agency she'd sub-contracted to make the collections, but insisted that such methods were both legitimate and lucrative. I'm not in a position to dispute the second, save to say not in my case, but I reject the first.
It's not just a case of one bad apple. This archaic practice has too much potential for turning donors off in droves from both your particular charity and from giving in general.
Logistics mean that the collectors are freelancers employed piecemeal but a third party is hardly the best ambassador. Their motivation is a financial target. If you want people to buy in to your cause rather than be bullied, try a mail-shot. It offers untrammelled opportunity for recipients to act on the arguments, and not out of fear of one. You may not be able to twist their arms quite so easily, but few beautiful relationships start with an assault.