Thursday, May 05, 2011

On annoying people for a good cause.

A few years ago, I was sitting in my suburban apartment complex alone, while my then-partner was at work, enjoying a couple beers mid-afternoon, when I heard a knock at the door.  I opened it to find two young guys, around 20 or 21, standing at the door holding clipboards.  They went into their sales pitch about magazines and a contest between the guys and gals in the group for who could sell the most subscriptions and win some kind of trip that probably didn't exist, and, uninterested in overpriced magazines and happily buzzed, I told them no and invited them in for a beer, instead.  They looked back and forth down the hallway looking for their fellow magazine-peddlers, found none, and quickly accepted the invitation.  We sat around in my living room for a half hour or so, bullshitting about boyfriends and girlfriends and the strictness of their job and how often they had to travel, their quotas, etc.  I announced that we were out of beer, and invited them to walk across the street to the liquor store with me.  They happily obliged, but once we were near the complex garages, they saw their employer's van and had to duck out of sight, ultimately deciding that they'd better just go back to work, as they'd be in big trouble for hanging out in some random girl's apartment drinking beers (while one of them was not legally allowed to be doing such things for another year).

I share this fun little tidbit as an example of the positive things that can occur when you do a job that requires you to talk to scores of people about something you want from them.  After those guys left my apartment, other magazine peddlers came knocking on the door in the following months, and were much less friendly and much more inclined to pressure me and use some manipulative tactic to try and sell me their overpriced garbage.  I did not buy their magazines, and I did not invite them in for beer.  I scowled and made them leave.

I also ignore phone calls from Planned Parenthood, various Democratic campaigns, and other places to whom I've donated in the past and who want more money from me.  I ignore these calls not necessarily because I don't have the money to give them (although this is often the case), or because I don't want to continue supporting them, but because I would personally rather do such things on my own time, and on my own terms.  I'm sensitive to feeling pressured by people, and I never, ever appreciate another person's attempt to manipulate me -- or anyone else -- for their own financial gain.  I also admittedly have a difficult time keeping separate the individual employees of said organizations from the deceptive tactics implemented by their employer.  And this is why I feel so conflicted about my current job.

I was recently hired on for training with a non-profit organization who lobbies for various environmental issues.  My job, specifically, was to call people who've donated in the past to ask them to donate again to help our current campaign.  Now, I don't mean to equate magazine-peddlers with canvassers who fight for stricter environmental regulations and other worthy causes.  They're not the same.  One works for a company's profit, one works for legislative efforts for under-funded projects, fighting against big business interests and in favor of the preservation of our drinking water.  The problem is that they use the same tactics to get donations as the magazine-peddlers use to get subscriptions.  And those tactics are manipulative, deceptive, and rely on vague, empty rhetoric to get their point across.  Vague, empty rhetoric that insults the intelligence of everyone on whom they use it.  "The fight for our future is now!" is a phrase that would make me laugh in the face of anyone who said it to me unironically.  Using it over the phone makes me feel like an emotional manipulator, an asshole, an idiot, and a complete dork.

But anyway.  Non-profits such as the one I worked for rely heavily on donations from members and new memberships, and the only way to get those donations is to ask for them, because while many people (like myself) spontaneously give money to organizations or campaigns when we can, they can't rely on something so inconsistent by itself.  And someone has to ask for them.  It's an important job, and a very difficult one.  Many people don't appreciate being called and asked for money, though... under any circumstance.  I'm one of them... hence my internal conflict.

I'm not doing so well there, and I'm not sure that I'm really going to last much longer.  I'm deeply uncomfortable pressuring people about their money, and while I'm quite aware of how important it is that this work be done, I'm not sure I feel badly about not feeling comfortable pressuring people in this manner.  While it may be necessary to some degree or another, I just... don't like doing it.

So, I quit.

I didn't talk to more than a handful of people who weren't openly irritated about my calling them.  I'd get a similar reaction from bank customers back at Wells Fargo when I would go into a required sales pitch over the phone, just trying to get them to give a verbal affirmative that they would at least consider whatever I was trying to sell.

Seeing as how uncomfortable this particular approach makes the majority of people its presented to, even if they eventually buy the product or donate money, are there any reasonable alternatives that would produce similar (if not better) results, while eliminating the practice of transparent psychological manipulation and appeal to the lowest common denominator?  I have yet to come across anything else.