Mr. Investment Banker catches my eye. He panics, quickly slaps his phone to the side of his face and launches into an animated, imaginary exchange with an absent fictional person on the other end. I openly laugh at this as he walks past and smiles sheepishly at me, knowing that we both know he’s actually having a phone conversation with himself just to avoid me. Others scurry past, the pavement suddenly becoming so riveting that they couldn’t possibly break eye contact with it. For others, a flick of the hand and a weary “not interested” suffices, and I hope they feel bad as I annoyingly chirp at them to have a good day. We’ve all been there. Except this time I’m on the other side of the fence. I am the charity fundraiser. Who said the grass was always greener on the other side? They lied. The grass on this side of the fence is not green – it doesn’t care, it doesn’t want to know. Persuading it every day that it does care is an uphill struggle, and one that often makes me want to throw in the unflattering charity t-shirt and become a non-hated member of the general public. Hell, I even sympathise with traffic wardens nowadays.
Doing charity fundraising is one of the most draining, difficult and relentlessly challenging jobs I think a student could ever do. It’s also the most fun, confidence-boosting and, at the risk of dragging out all the clichés, most rewarding. If you don’t meet targets, they fire you – and if it’s going that badly, facing the axe is almost a relief. The one-off bad day can be terrible. I discovered the hard way that charity fundraising on a hangover is thoroughly soul-destroying. Imagine your worst hangover and the need to remain firmly in bed; instead, imagine having be perky, constantly smiling, engaging, persuasive and tirelessly persistent ALL day. Now I understand why Karni only allows its rag raiders to lash after collecting the cash.
So, to hold on to your job, big nights out on weeknights are off the agenda. This job is crap for your social life – fantastic. And if you don’t have a thick skin at the beginning of it, you’ll have one to rival rhinos world-over before long. Being told to f*** off/get out of someone’s way/shove your folder up your arse is not conducive to remaining bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It’s downright annoying. The most bizarre feeling is taking off the charity rag at the end of the day and suddenly becoming someone people aren’t desperate to avoid anymore. Whilst I don’t believe at all that everyone has the resources to give to charity, it is infuriating when people simply tell you that they don’t care. Even more annoyingly, the reason they don’t care is generally because you’ve done a poor job explaining the cause to them, and you start to doubt your powers of persuasion.
But, like the saying goes, it really is all swings and roundabouts. In fact, believe it or not, the highs actually outweigh the lows. On days where you succeed in signing seven or eight people up to any particular charity, the effect your body language has actually seems to attract people to you – it really does become a case of simply believing that the next person you stop will want to signup, and they generally will. Some people are little godsends – the ones that approach you of their own accord and demand to be signed up without you even having to utter a word. One very rich human rights lawyer did this for me, and then proceeded to call his equally minted lawyer friends and persuade a couple of them to sign up too. Others manage to build traps for themselves and then, without me having to open my mouth, sign up out of guilt. One guy I stopped claimed to be sixteen (sign ups have to over eighteen). I thought I’d be cheeky and ask when he was born – taken totally by surprise, he answered with “next year.” “Wow”, was all I had to say before he confessed to being twenty and promptly signed up. And it goes without saying, if you’re ever in need of some serious flirting, this is the job for you. Ever wanted to approach guys passing in the street but couldn’t think of a way to talk to them? This job is your licence to do precisely that. One of my team only talks to fit girls. It’s actually a breach of conduct, but that hasn’t stopped virtually every fundraiser I know taking numbers/giving out their own numbers at some point, with varying and sometimes staggering degrees of success.
And even when I’m not signing up passers-by in droves, one of the truly hilarious perks of the job is seeing the lengths that people go to just to avoid me. Walking straight towards me, several people have suddenly registered my clipboard-wielding presence and, no less, abruptly stopped mid-walk, turned on their heels and trotted as fast as possible on a crowded London street in the direction they’ve just come from. Others miraculously remember that, erm, thing they needed to buy so desperately but had totally forgotten about until I approached them. This trick has seen me witness an elderly man walk almost to within touching distance of me, go through the exaggerated motions of clicking his fingers and looking enlightened at the thought of a forgotten errand, then violently swerve into a nearby shop. In this unfortunate case, the shop was Anne Summers. I gleefully saw him register this as he approached its doors, but it was too late by then. I’d happily give my day’s commission to see his seventy-year-old wife’s face when he returned home with a rampant rabbit nestled amongst the newspaper and the groceries.
Some truly unbelievable stories emerge when talking to other fundraisers. One fundraiser in London was receiving a lesson from her team leader on how to successfully stop people (yes, this is over half the battle won). They were standing outside the Natural History Museum when the fundraiser suddenly remarked to a passer-by that he looked just like Paul McCartney. “That’s because I am Paul McCartney”, came the reply. Obviously ignoring this as a special type of irony reserved for fundraisers (“do I look like I have money?” is also popular, spoilt by the fact it is largely used by women struggling under the weight of Selfridges bags) “Paul” walked on. A second later, a gaggle of screaming girls sprint forward, demanding autographs from none other than, yes, Paul McCartney, in London for a private gig. Equally, many people seem to regard charity fundraisers as sounding boards for their political views, life stories, sex lives and virtually every other detail you’d never share with a total stranger. One woman confided in me that her husband was having an affair but she wasn’t entirely sure of her sexuality anyway, so she didn’t even mind. I have been blessed on three separate occasions – a creepy ritual that inexplicably involves the blesser grabbing both the blessed’s shoulders and muttering skyward. I have been encouraged to confess my sins (they only had ten minutes to spare so no chance…)
In the last month, I have been given free pizza, a pair of sunglasses, a thirty-year-old woman’s phone number, an umbrella, two CDs and an oyster card. I have been spat at, hugged by total randomers, kissed, tripped up and have made someone cry. I have spoken to a woman who was rushed into labour, a man who had just lost his job and a little girl whose rabbit had just died. And I have raised around thirty thousand pounds for charity – which, in amongst everything else, almost seems to be forgotten. Probably the only other way of getting highs and lows like that is to develop a smack habit…
By Josie Robinson