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Canvassers: annoying, but apparently effective

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Archives - October 2009
Thursday, October 01, 2009
A canvasser for Dialogue Direct working downtown Portland.

Canvassers hustling for charitable donations in Portland say they had a tougher sell this summer, but you won’t see it in the numbers. Nonprofits say they recruited as many donors as usual from street fund-raising campaigns this year, which means the not-exactly-popular “chuggers” — short for “charity muggers” — will likely be back in full force next year.

There are three main canvassing organizations working in Oregon: the civic not-for-profit Fund for the Public Interest and its associated nonprofits such as OSPIRG and Environment Oregon, and the for-profit Dialogue Direct and Grassroots Campaigns (GCI) (none would say how many Portland employees they have). The three organizations canvassed in Portland for seven clients altogether in the past year, including the League of Conservation Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International.

Third-party canvassing campaigns are often criticized by activists and prospective donors because they’re costly and don’t pay off immediately. Critics say too much of the contribution pays canvassers instead of funding the cause, which is hard to swallow when the canvassers are mercenary solicitors. The ACLU, for example, pays GCI $180 for every 4.5-hour canvasser shift, in which canvassers raise between $130 and $150 on average. The contract GCI is required to file with the Oregon Department of Justice says GCI estimates it will receive 100%, and the ACLU zero percent, of gross revenue raised.

Steve Abrahamson, an associate director at the ACLU, says a canvassing campaign is a safe long-term investment that yields a steady monthly income. “It may not be valuable in the first year but the value over even 24 months is seven times what it initially cost us to bring somebody on,” he says.

But incentives are strong to sign up donors by whatever means possible, and paid canvassers sometimes obscure the fact that they are hired hands. Canvassers must meet quotas or lose their jobs, and are often paid a bonus or commission when they exceed quotas. Washington’s attorney general filed a complaint in July against the for-profit canvasser Dialogue Direct for canvassing without registering with the state and giving donors the impression that paid canvassers were actually volunteers or employees of a registered charity working to benefit children.

But Oregon’s Department of Justice has gotten just a handful of citizen complaints about canvassers in Portland in the last two years, and has not found violations other than a few late registrations.

Probably the most serious charge against canvassers is that they’re annoying. The Portland canvassers are so numerous and persistent that this spring the Pearl District Philanthropic Society printed a business card-sized response to solicitors that starts with, “I know you’re just doing your job,” and concludes, “I’m not going to talk to you.” 



-3 #1 Why can't they be civilJJ 2009-10-22 18:03:33
I'm sure all these people have good things to talk about and I'm sure we believe in a lot of their causes. However, I just can't understand why they don't pay attention the the light off on the porch. We have the light off for a reason, it is a signal of "DO NOT DISTURB." If another one of them rings my bell with the light off while I am trying to put our 1 year old to sleep I am going to serious loose it and verbally abuse them. I have to repeat this to a different one at least every third or fourth night of the week. Why can't they be decent and civil people and catch a clue. Guess it is time to put up one of those tacky "no solicitors" signs. That doesn't seem to stop the phone calls though (the no-call list that is).
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+4 #2 Reply the person above is unlikely to seeKristina 2010-05-16 00:47:33
I canvass, put a little note by your door stating not to knock after a certain time, or when the light's off. Some people leave their lights on all night, some people never turn them on, so it's not universally recognized. And in the summer, when it's dark 'till 10, relying on your light being off may be a problem :-) trust me we're not trying to be rude, I always feel really bad when I knock on someone's door at a bad time.
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+1 #3 White-collar crimeMary 2011-04-03 00:06:46
Can Dialogue Direct and Children International constitute as white-collar crime? Hell yes! Any charitable organization that is truly a charity would simply act the way any saint would when running an organization: ask for donations...not hing else. Children International runs as a business and Dialogue Direct is part of the reason. It's not to say one is more at fault than the other. Both can equally be at fault for practicing deception, employing aggressive panhandling and promoting a vision of helping children (only a tiny percentage of the profits from memberships goes to Children International while most of it goes to Dialogue Direct) that's false. So, children worldwide are not receiving great treatment...the y're struggling. Take a CCJ class on white collar crime and you'll start learning about how "altrustic" organizations that use the "monthly membership donations" format instead of a "ask for donations from the public like a church or temple would". I prefer the Salvation Army to Children International. Those people take clothing donations! :-). People who work for Dialogue Direct or Children International will respond with something along the lines of: "That's not true...my organization is selfless...we don't committ crimes...the children are our highest priority". Oy!
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Robert Muller
-2 #4 Canvassers - Real life Pop up adds.Robert Muller 2011-08-17 15:48:23
Whenever I walk by a canvasser I just say to the person. "You're like a pop up add. So annoying." They never know how to respond.
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Chris R
+2 #5 TruthChris R 2011-12-04 00:52:13
To clarify, the ACLU pays GCI $180, and CGI raises 130-150, but I would guess $20-$30 of that are monthly reoccurring donations, so over the course of the next few months the investment pays for itself, and since the average time that a member continues to donate is 6 years, the charity's return on investment is well worth the upfront cost. (I don't/have not worked for GCI, but I've worked for other fundraising companies, and this is how it works/why charities are so happy with the work they do and continue to hire them year after year).

Canvassing organizations operate the way they do because it works, and charities that hire them choose to because it is the most cost effective way to raise funds, many non-profits have used canvassing as their main source of funding for years/decades, it's what enables them to do the good work that they do.

All non-profits/cha rities have a fundraising/dev elopment budget, it's an investment which enables them to aquire the rest of their funds. For example, if a charity may spend 20% of it's total funds raised on fundraising (this includes paying canvassers) but it is only because of this 20% that they are able to raise the other 80%. Fundraising, whether it's through advertising, canvassing, or other means costs money - "you have to spend money to make money".

@Mary 1) Comparing CI to the Salvation Army is to compare apples to moralizations. Also, monthly giving programs are an extremely cost effective way for charities to establish a consistent cashflow, that's why it's a major part of the fundrasing for Greenpeace, the American Red Cross, MSF (Doctors Without Borders), the ASPCA, the ACLU among many others. Also, CI's fundrasing budget is about of their total budget, so almost 80% goes to the children. (The salvation army, because it is considered a church and not a charity is not required by law to disclose it's fundraising budget, but I'm sure it's far from 0%... all fundraising costs money, whether is billboards or canvassers or TV spots.)

@Robert Muller - It's not that they don't know how to respond, it's just that they don't need to waste their time on someone who is obviously not going to listen to them or get involved. When I was canvassing I heard more than one person tell me that line (maybe it was you?) I was just too busy trying to DO MY JOB and to respond to your cleverness, perhaps you should put all that wit do good use, a comedy show fundraising event? Also... canvassers, like pop-up ads, may be annoying, but they persist because they are effective, but unlike (most) op-up ads, canvassers are trying to get you to involved with a good cause, maybe help someone less fortunate, you should take 10 minutes and find out why they're annoying you so much.
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Bill fates Gates Traits
+1 #6 Learning how to find the best, is exactly what you will do by reading this.Bill fates Gates Traits 2012-03-03 15:31:55
The only canvass organization that I support is Clean Water Action.
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-1 #7 no thank youGuest 2014-07-25 01:27:23
A canvasser came to my door. Annoying is an understatement, 6 times I said 'no thank you' with a smile. She was adamant she was not seeking donations, but her last sentence was that she was in fact seeking my info for them to send me a donation pack in the mail. There was no letting up from her, she was pushy, rude and obnoxious. I was polite and understanding, but she ended up angry.my gawd she needs help, she did an injustice to this amazing service.
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0 #8 Canvesser I amGuest 2014-10-30 18:33:02
Been a canvesser for a hole two days now, have not run into any rude people and it is door to door. But my luck probably will run out soon. just hope it not too bad. At least I live in Portland Or. where most Oregonians are more LAX...
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