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Stories of Charity and a Salesman

September 13, 2014

I recently acted as a volunteer for the Cancer Council and Legacy doing charity work – I was a ‘salesman’ , encouraging people to donate to worthy causes.

The reason I mention this is that these experiences are immensely educational and give you ‘food for thought’ . Your eyes are opened in so many ways. And, even when they aren’t, you crystallise thoughts you already had. Volunteering for charity is an experience I feel everybody can truly gain from.

Today, I’d just like to outline this work. Within each section is both discussion of the actual ‘sales’ process – which you can learn a lot from – , and also the ‘deeper’ insights I gained from selling, and the process. Let’s begin without further adieu.

Sales Tactics and Insights

Generally, you should keep the following ideas in mind when selling:

  • Plant yourself in a fixed area, yet move ACTIVELY within that area!
  • Selling is a numbers game! Because no matter how good your ‘pitch’
    • People are generally NOT going to listen to any sort of intellectual argument. Because…
    • To do that you already need to have their attention – which is the primary difficulty you have when selling!

I think this point really deserves emphasis. I’m going to discuss it in depth later, but the fact is that a large % of people are actively trying to avoid you, avoid eye contact… avoid any reason to know you exist. Furthermore, people already have their preconceptions of charities in place, and what they think of them – that’s something the organisation you support as a whole has to deal with. Point is, your ‘argument’ will at max lead to a 5% increase in sales. You really need to focus on getting customers before you convince them! For this:

    • You need to be active, not passive. Only a tiny % of people will go to you of their own accord.
    • For this reason, approach individuals. General calls to the masses engage with… no-one.
      • Make eye-contact with individuals. Gesture, make conversation.
      • Pick the right tone of voice for the right person.
    • My exception to focusing on individuals is when you see a group of people walking together, and who might be amenable.
    • Always smile if possible!
    • Be bold. You are operating in a crowded market place and people aren’t going to go out of their way, their busy lives, to stop and inquire politely about your cause. I recommend using gestures to emphasise your message. For instance, opening your arms wide – as if in welcome or embrace – I find works well.
      • This said, do not ‘knock people over’ in trying to sell, as one elderly couple told me some colleagues had done, before I swayed them away from anger to amenability. You want fire, yet also class and politeness – different tones.

Here’s the point. Being limp will get you few sales. You can’t just front a box at people and expect them to alter their lives on a whim. How can you convince them to alter their lives when you convey such a lack of energy and interest?

  • As you are generally working in teams, you need to focus on dispersing optimally and hitting most intersection points. You want to cover the 3 exits of a busy transport interchange as a priority for example. Same with the exits of extensive shopping complexes.
    • Though don’t go inside due to zoning laws!
  • For individuals who may have already bought your organisation’s merchandise, wish them a good day and say something like ‘good work sir!’ . It radiates positivity which helps further sales, and brightens their day and yours.
  • Lastly, you’re going to get rejected A LOT of times. Keep trying!

I think there’s a lot to be gained from looking at these tactics. While clinically breaking down charity like this reminds me of con-men and salesman who try to lead people to pursue trivial ends, I think these tactics speak to a fundamental point – you should treat people as people. You should engage them. Furthermore, as with study and exercise, you should be active, not passive, in what you do. And ultimately, people feel better when you do this.

The difference between salesman and charities here is that both attempt to use such tactics, but for different ends. But, what matters to you, is that these tactics can brighten the days of others, and make you more productive and successful. Treating people as people and being active in life is something you should do, and if sales helps you do that, then its good.

Who to Approach When Selling? (and insights!)

This is a part of tactics which deserves its own section, and is very informative. Ultimately, while it is a ‘numbers game’, you will often have a selection of individuals whom you can approach. So, how do you pick which one?

  • The elderly are generally quite generous, and the most charitable. Prioritise here.
  • Caucasians are the most generous ethnicity when it comes to giving to charities
    • Controversial ? Yes, that may sound bloody racist! But it was quite noticeable for me and my friend (not a Caucasian) when selling. Now, I want to be really, really clear – people from all ethnicities donate generously, and perhaps Caucasians donate more frequently because they earn more due to racial discrimination in the workforce. I don’t think there’s any inherent ‘moral superiority’ in Caucasians that would be the basis of racism. BUT, as a salesperson, if you have nothing else to go on (none of my other tips help) and there’s a crowd coming your way, you follow this idea. There’s no time to morally examine the causal factors of why Caucasians tend to donate more.
  • Approach businessmen… though they are the most likely to refuse.
    • What? Make no sense? Let me break it down. Somewhat surprisingly, rich businessmen, and high income earners wearing suits are some of the most passive-aggressive, likely to totally ignore you, imperious and penny pinching people around (while they ignore you, you hear the lunch plans occasionally) . They’re often the people who would pinch pennies and cost pounds (a la medical prevention) , and they certainly won’t buy from you. HOWEVER, those businessman who do listen are often VERY generous and very kind, and some of your best customers. They make it worth your while.
  • Don’t approach people on phones and listening to music if given choices. Generally doesn’t work. (though not always)
  • Finally, and most importantly, disregard all these principles in a heartbeat if your instincts say otherwise! After a while you will develop an awareness of who is amiable and who is not. Facial expressions, pace of walking, clothing, posture… you’ll intuitively know. Trust this instinct!

When you’re selling, you see a world of individuals from all walks of life and all social classes. Its illuminating. As people go by you see shards of their lives. Those with an imperious glare and haughty anger you can’t go preach to. They live life with such a mindset and focus that even if saints implored them to act they would be oblivious. And then there are those with a fundamental happiness and kindness that you just ‘see’ . These people retain a positivity and enthusiasm that is joyous to see, a humanity worth having.

One group that I suppose is really of interest are businessmen. It seems apparent that to get where they are – on average – they have had to meticulously count dollars, weigh decisions and be ruthless on many occasions. Often they are very cold and curt in their replies, as if channelling scholarly impartiality. Or, they walk so fast, so determined to arrive at B from A that they can’t possibly see you, or life go by.

Of course, I’d like to reiterate that these are all generalisations. But I think they give rise to a crucial question – how do people lose their ‘humanity’?

Other thoughts

There’s a few other thoughts I want to discuss.

Firstly, the volunteer staff – especially those who are assisting you as a school student in helping out – are extremely friendly people. I know with Legacy that the camaraderie and kindness of the volunteers – many of them related to the service or cadets – is extraordinary. The way you see people mobilise, and give up their time is extraordinary.

Secondly, I think that charity work is eye opening. You learn so much, and see so much. I haven’t really focused on ‘selling’ the virtue of doing charity work in this article, but really, do it!

Third, some of the people you come across will make you question how they became who they were. I haven’t mentioned one or 2 irksome citizens and my experience with them, but I wonder at times. Also, when you see imperious, stone-cold people so eager to avoid human contact, you have to wonder – have they sacrificed their personality in pursuit of a career, relationship… or are they just jaded? And was the sacrifice worth it?

Now, I’m not meaning to say that people should feel compelled to buy from charities. They shouldn’t. But, there’s a civility in nodding no, or saying ‘no thank you’ or softly smiling that isn’t present in some imperious attempt to pass you… after having looked at you. Its hard to describe, but there’s a certain inhumanity you see in many declines, when you compare it to others. I had one woman say to me that she wouldn’t support me because she had to support her unemployed husband, another because of a need to fund surgery. Those people had fundamental reasons not to give, and I would not have their cripple themselves to help others. It’d be to rob Peter to pay Paul. And I’m sure there’s many more people who would like to save money on charity for their children’s pleasure, or some other noble cause and are tight for money. But, there are many more who scoff at throwing a dollar to charity and ‘wasting it’ while buying new handbags, or going to nice lunches a moment later. There’s nothing wrong with those purchases in and of themselves, but when they completely eliminate charity, community and a host of other worthy matters, you do have to wonder. Which leads me to my final point:

There’s a view among many libertarians and other citizens that, really, charity should be an entirely private thing. Governments shouldn’t give foreign aid and social welfare and the like (excepting strategic reasons) , and that we ought to leave everything, from caring for veterans’ widows to homelessness to private sector charities.

Unfortunately, this view is misguided and blissfully naive. Governments have to be involved. Real change occurs through them.

Don’t get me wrong, private charity is great. Today, I raised somewhere around $700-900 in half a day (probably nearer $700), and my friend raised $600. One fellow in the area apparently raised about $950 in the day. These are significant sums when multiplied by many volunteers. However, many volunteers get far less. Many school students raised a scant $100 in busy shopping centres, because they weren’t active and didn’t engage individuals. Essentially, they expected people to give, and they didn’t. Because people have busy lives and will never consider something like private charity in the heat of the moment on a busy day.

Even the best salesman can only make so many approaches and make people listen. Even the best person can only compel people to listen, and even then, to buy some small amount. Even a saint or perfect being could not sway many in the population to spare a dollar; they would sooner stick a needle through their eye.

And that’s where governments come in. They can compel equality, and ensure that good causes which raise societal welfare on the whole get supported. Yes, they do need to make sure they are only supporting good causes, but its a role which citizens should encourage governments to embrace.

For years governments have said they would eradicate poverty 20 years later. For many years I’ve always believed that this was theoretically possible given our current wealth, yet never realised for practical reasons and human flaws. I’m not sure we’ll ever overcome these practical reasons and human flaws, but I think you can take a small step towards that goal today, by volunteering for charity and encouraging governments to support worthy causes, even by virtue of collecting more revenue.


From → Foundations

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