Canvassers Toronto

Do you give money to door-to-door charity canvassers?

The following post was written by guest contributor Jose Gonzalez who briefly worked for a company in Toronto that hired him to go door-to-door seeking donations for charity. He underscores that not all of these companies are bad, but that everyone should be rightly sceptical and do their research before handing over money at the door. We thought this post is particularly timely given the recent tragedy in Japan.

The toughest part isn't having someone tell you that they don't care about starving orphans or getting trapped in a conversation with an old racist man. The most dreadful part of work as a canvasser in a mulit-level-marketing company is the dirty feeling you get from lying to everyone you meet.

Not all canvassers are trying to mislead the people they talk to, but while working for a less reputable company, I did learn a few ways in which idealistic young employees are tricked into lying for what seems like a worthy cause. The campaign I was assigned to work on was a charity collecting for victims of hurricanes and earthquakes.

The pitch begins by being overly friendly, always wearing a smile regardless of the weather. Then you'll get a problem of some kind, in my case it was helping people in Haiti, and very casually that will be followed by a solution that usually involves you signing up for a donation plan.

Regardless of how many people anyone would talk to in a day, you'll invariably hear how helpful all your neighbours have been, a powerful psychological trick called the Jones effect which is designed to make you feel like you need to keep up with potentially more charitable neighbours. Other techniques are smalltalk, painfully scripted jokes, and even some flirting.

Of course, these are all old sales tricks, where things started getting weird was when I was encouraged not to let anyone know I was earning a commission. Obviously a red flag for a charity worker, so I was taught all sorts of half-truths to ensure no one would know I would make anything off their donation like saying "I'm currently working for free" before someone signs up, which is when I'd actually earn the commission.

The commissions were higher than the initial donations, but this would supposedly be offset by monthly donations over time. To improve our numbers and to earn a nice commission, we'd tell people to sign up for one month, and then cancel right away, meaning a huge portion of the donation isn't going to the charity.

One question I was constantly asked was if instead of signing up a donation through me, they could instead make it online. It'd obviously be easier to do that instead of giving financial info to a complete stranger, but I was instructed to tell them that by donating through me, a corporate sponsor would triple match their donation, which you couldn't do online. I later learned that this special promotion was just as available online, and I was essentially lying to improve my company's image through a lot of direct sign-ups.

Not all canvassers are out to trick you out of your money, but it's important to know what might be happening to your money if you choose to donate, so try to make sure anyone who comes to your door isn't working for a marketing group and doesn't have a commission at stake.

Do you give money to door-to-door canvassers? Share your experience and opinions in the comments below.

Photo by RPM on Flickr

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