The Reality of Fundraising

I started a fundraising job on a Monday, and handed in my uniform on the Thursday. The reason isn’t particularly a fault on my part, nor any fault on my team or supervisor, but a fundamental issue with the role; people are really horrible. I applied for the job because I wanted to do something that made me feel happy and like I’d made a positive difference. Instead, only four days in, I felt awful in myself and disgusted at humanity.

To be clear, the job was as far from ‘chugging’ as charity fundraising can be. I was paid an hourly wage, rather than on commission. We were indoors, at a train station, with a clear area in front of a large sign and two tables. We followed the PFRA code of conduct; not stepping in front of or obstructing people, not taking advantage of vulnerable people and never trying to guilt people into signing up. The company’s own code of conduct and system for rating fundraisers focuses on long term donors, so it was in our own interest to ensure people were genuinely happy to sign up and so wouldn’t cancel it as soon as they got away.

I started with enthusiasm and a good outlook. It was more hours and better hourly rate than my last job, my team was friendly and had a positive attitude and my boss seemed absolutely lovely. It was for a well-known charity that works in a field no one can not care about and is making a real difference. I know I have a genuine smile and friendly demeanour, and I know I don’t care about looking like a fool or talking to strangers.

I was prepared for rejection. It can take a hundred “hi, how are you?”s to get someone to stop, and it can take ten conversations with someone who stops to get a sign up. The more people you try and talk to, the higher your chances of getting sign ups. I had no problem with people ignoring me or replying with “no” or “I’m busy”. In fact, people who had clearly seen me suddenly pretending they hadn’t was pretty funny.

It was the sheer amount of people looking at me like I was something they stepped in, or like I was personally insulting them. As factually as you can understand that it’s not personal, that it’s not about the charity let alone you, that it’s probably about the state of their day so far, it wears you down. I had a woman happily talk to me for ages, then look horrified and angered when I mentioned that we were looking for donations; the sheer audacity Cancer Research must have, in her opinion, to not simply pay people to stand in the train station and tell her personally about cancer and how we’re improving the treatment, but to ask her to help!?

There were a few people who reacted in anger, not just to me mentioning money, but from my apparent rudeness in daring to say “good morning” or even be standing still and not talking to them. One person told me to “fuck off” and one person nearly walked into me then looked at me in disgust. It really is surprising how close people will walk to what is obviously a charity stand when they can’t stand being greeted by charity fundraisers. Walking between us and the tables, walking through the one-person-wide gap between the tables and the banner, even resting their stuff on the table and looking at our leaflets. All just to glare and stomp away when talked to.

So it wasn’t the job I thought it would be, and it was harder from a keeping happy and positive side than leafleting on the street was. People are happier for some kid in scruffy clothes to push leaflets trying to sell them things into their hands right outside the small entrance to the train station that they are for a smartly dressed person working for a good cause to greet them when they walk past the easily avoidable stand. So much, so tiring.

At least I could go home knowing that by doing a good job I was saving lives, right? Well, I could have, had I been doing a good job. I got one sign up on my first day, a great start, and another on my second. Two thirds of the way into my three in three days starter target. Okay, so they were both people that clearly walked by us wanting to donate; it took barely any explanation and just the mention of the sign up form. And then, nothing. I came in on my third day ready to get my third sign up in the first hour. I was following all my coworkers advice and greeting every person I could. Nope. I wasn’t making the difference that I was hoping. It was definitely a downer, due to my high hopes and the expectations day one gave me.

I was still determined, then one person just… broke me.

He stopped to tell me why he refuses to donate to or support Cancer Research. He lectured me about the animal testing he says they do. I haven’t looked it up yet; it’s not important. I would agree that unnecessary animal testing, that is, testing on animals for non-life-saving reasons such as cosmetics or for testing things that are already proven, is unnecessary and I would not support it as I would prefer it did not happen. I feel the creation of life saving cancer treatments is at the very least in a grey area, as we can hardly go from theoretical to human testing.

He told me that animal testing is ‘bad science’ because animals and people are not the same. Ignore the fact that humans have had pigs’ hearts as transplants, and the success of medicine tested on animals, apparently. He skipped over my attempt to change the subject. No, all animal testing is useless and by definition animal abuse; it’s not just the medicine testing, he insisted that all animal testing is in battery-style cages and they use beagles and cut their vocal cords so they can’t cry. He painted a Nazi-esque sociopathic doctor doing it for the hell of it, and told me repeatedly that I am promoting animal abuse for fundraising for Cancer Research.

Bear in mind, of course, he is just some man with nothing to back up his statements, who has gone to the shorter, white and apparently female fundraiser, not the black man around his height. It’s me he wants to lecture and harass and tell to quit. Shaken, but not quite beaten yet, I asked him what the alternative is, hoping for him to stumble over the idea of testing on humans.

No. He instead tells me cancer is hereditary and that by “allowing people to carry on living” after being diagnosed with cancer we are just causing it to stay in the gene pool. Lifestyle factors aside, I was suddenly aware I had been confronted by a man who was genuinely arguing in favour of eugenics. You expect to meet the worst people that exist if you work in a prison or with dangerous people; a social worker, a police officer, an addiction counsellor. This man was just some man in a suit, going to work through Victoria station.

My team leader told me you get people like that sometimes. I’m not going to lie, I cried. I handed in my uniform that same day, and hope to never meet anyone that horrifying again.


Seven Surprising Things You Learn Working In a Charity Shop

People Shoplift from Charity Shops

This surprised me the most. The heartlessness of coming into a shop staffed by volunteers, raising money for a charitable cause… and nicking stuff. The pettiness of stealing things that are being sold for a pound. It’s not even like it’s poorer people stealing, either; it seems to be people who could easily afford the items at full retail price.

I walked in for an afternoon shift just as a full rack of jeans was discovered missing. There was just an empty rack, so whoever it was had just picked them all up with no regard for size or style and left with maybe ten pairs of jeans. More experienced staff said those jeans will likely end up on a market stall or on e-bay.

You Find Out All Kinds of Personal Things

Most people are aware that old ladies will happily tell everyone all about their latest surgery, but it turns out that all kinds of people will also happily tell charity shop staff the gory details of their personal lives. Women tell me at the till about their changes in breast size and point out the size of the bras they’re buying. People tell me exactly what reason they’re buying clothes for and exactly what they think of a relative who’s wedding it is.

The most interesting anecdote of all isn’t mine, but a coworker’s as they told me how weird it gets sometimes. An attractively dressed woman with a lot of make up on came in, and looked at revealing clothes and high heels, as she has done since when I’ve been in. This time, apparently, a man came up to her and asked her if she was working. After a moment of her panicked face, she told him to wait outside. Turns out she’s a sex worker. The funny part of the story is that my coworker says she carried on shopping for nearly an hour while the man stood around outside waiting!

People Act As If the Prices are Extortionate

It’s a charity shop. The things are mostly second hand and none of the clothes cost more than a fiver. There are some truly lovely, good quality items that seem to be brand new, and they’re priced higher than used and basic items while still being charity-shop cheap. Someone, people still try to sweet talk themselves discounts or complain about the price.

I helped a woman shorter than me, getting a handbag down off of the wall for her. We chatted about the designer label, the likelihood that it was real leather, and the as-new quality it was in. She took it to the till, but then asked in surprise if the price on the label was right; apparently £14.99 is a shocking price to ask for an as-new bag that is nearly £900 new, and she left without buying anything.

People Donate Brand New, Quality Items…

Having never really had a lot of money in my teens or adult life, I’ve only really given old clothes to younger relatives and more recently sold them on eBay, or binned them if they were too damaged. The things that go to the charity shop are things you don’t need to replace (and thus sell for money towards the replacement) and things that wouldn’t fit a relative. Seeing some of the great clothes and other things we get in the charity shop is a heart-warming reminder that people who are better off do actually donate their possessions rather than share and sell for extra money.

Just as the nearly £900, barely-used designer handbag, I’ve put out, neatened up or sold some items that it really reassures my faith in humanity to find donated. We’ve had brand new items, still in their packets, including mid-range shirts. I can tell many of the books donated to us have never been read, their spines stiff and pages pristine, and one or two even with the unfaded receipt still tucked into the back cover. Much of our nicest non-clothes items are PDSA items such as pet-themed décor, but even that gets donated; I’ve sold a painting and wondered who painted it, who donated such a lovely item.

…and Old, Broken Rubbish

Unfortunately, people also seem to see charity shops as a dump where you get to feel good about yourself, and we get people attempting to ‘donate’ all kinds of rubbish. We don’t take electrical items and things like bike helmets, as it’s near impossible for us to know if they’re in usable condition. We find that clothes are too ripped or that battery items have old, mouldy batteries in them, but that’s a judgement call.

It’s when people try to give us obviously cracked bike helmets that would be dangerous to use, puzzles and multi-piece toys with many pieces missing, or things that are blatantly of no use to anyone that’s most frustrating. I’ve even had to explain that no, we don’t take kitchen cupboard doors with no hinges or handles!

People Have Zero Common Sense

While it is a volunteering role for a charity, it’s also retail work in a high street shop. As such, you get all the same realisations of customer ignorance. There’s something about walking into a shop that makes people forget how to read, use logic and count, and it seems that charity shops are one of the worst for this.

The typical occurrence of people handing you clothes with labels on the top with huge £1 stickers and asking you how much they cost happens, as does people looking at a sign that says “3 items only in the changing room” then asking if the curtained area is a changing room or how many items they can take in. I had to repeatedly explain to a customer that while I personally did not know if the watch she was buying had a battery in it, it had been tested and did work. She walked over to a display while I rung her purchase up on the till, then asked if I had, in that time, tested the watch.

Charity Shops Are a Local Charity, Too

While the point of charity shops are already charities, raising money for animal, medical and international charities, the shops themselves provide a charitable service to the local community. In selling the things people have donated, charity shops are shops selling cheap second hand things that people can afford easier.

A woman came in to buy her kids some holiday clothes, as new clothes for 4 children can get very expensive very quickly. A couple of people come in regular, donating the puzzles they’ve completed and buying up new puzzles to do. In a conversation I had with a customer, I realised he was a homeless man buying an interview suit for less than £10. Working in a charity shop gives you a real insight into their role in the community.

Angelina Jolie and the Save the Boobies Effect.

We live in a society of sexism, misogyny and the non-consensual sexualisation of women’s bodies (or rather, bodies seen as women’s). Sexism is performed, believed and internalised via misogyny, the hatred of women and femininity. This is most obvious when women are treated like lesser people, but the hatred of femininity is less obvious, and includes the concept that girls can and should be masculine but boys can’t and shouldn’t be feminine, and places masculinity as better, more important or most desirable than femininity.

Despite this, women are still expected to be feminine, and often nothing more than something for men to look at. This is shown in the lack of diversity in portrayals of women; the skimpier clothes, focus on attractiveness rather than skill, and the emphasis on curves. Drawn, photoshopped or otherwise created portrayals of women often take this over the top, with even the women who are powerful heroes possessing tiny costumes and armour, massive, tiny waists and massive, gravity-defying breasts. This isn’t limited to fictional women, or actors playing women, as the options for real women are limited when they take part in media, buy clothes or look for role models. The non-consensual aspect is highlighted by the social interactions forced upon them. Sexual harassment in, catcalling, internet comments and fan groups are too common to be surprising for those harassed.

This is all relevant and topical because it frames the way the recent Angelina Jolie news story has been told. For anyone unaware, Jolie’s family has a history of breast cancer, so she was tested for a gene that would make her susceptible, one that presumably runs in her family. Unfortunately, she found that does indeed possess that gene, making the probability of her developing breast cancer very high. Faced with this difficult news, she was faced with a difficult decision as well, the decision of what to do now.

Bravely, she decided to have a pre-emptive double mastectomy, bringing her chances of developing breast cancer down to practically none. For most people, this is difficult enough choice and a brave enough decision, as all surgery has risks and many women feel their breasts are vital parts of their womanhood. For Jolie, a celebrity and public figure, fully exposed to public opinion and criticism, and an actor whose body is part of her fame (she was the basis for the design of Lara Croft), it becomes an even braver decision.

As expected by the majority of women, the immediate and internet-wide response was to insult Angelina, reduce her worth and existence to her body, ignore the cancer factor, and to only talk about the story in the ways it affects Brad Pitt, apparently owner of her and her body. Twitter was flooded with comments, displaying every possible sexist reaction to a human being’s medical decision.

Tweets accused her of fabricating the story and having the surgery as a publicity stunt, and mentioned her adopted children. Her breasts were mourned like a celebrity who had died, and Jolie’s career and indeed life were deemed over to some. People couldn’t wrap their heads round the reason any women would make the decision to ‘chop off their boobs’, which implies they failed to wrap their heads around mastectomies as well, and some added the fact that ‘she doesn’t even have cancer’ to their confusion. Most tweets, however, were variations on “Poor Brad” – bemoaning her to doing this to him, sympathising on the loss of ‘his’ breasts (or rather ‘funbags’ and other pleasure centres terms), or saying that he ought to leave her, often because there is no logical reason to stay with a breastless woman.

Some people even felt that it would be a better outcome if she kept her breasts and died of breast cancer. Not only were there people who felt this way, they felt safe and justified to share this sentiment in public spaces, with their names and photos attached.

This is what Angelina Jolie inevitably faced for making this decision as a celebrity, but there are countless people who face the same decision and face these comments face to face, from strangers and from supposed friends. Many of them don’t have the choice, as one thing Jolie points out is that she has the privilege of money and good healthcare, to be tested for the gene that increases the chance of breast cancer. Some people are suddenly faced with the fact that have breast cancer, may die, need to have mastectomies, and still may die.

The saddest part is that the sexist reaction is not just the product of sexism in society. The very campaigns raising money and awareness about breast cancer fuel the flames, most obviously with the campaign named Save the Boobies. That’s right, not save the people who may die, or stopping boob cancer, but save the boobies – that is the message taken to heart by the people who would rather Angelina dead.

It isn’t just the campaigns that ignore the actual human beings with possibly fatal diseases by focusing on the sexualised body parts that might be lost that cause problems. Most breast cancer campaigns are all pink, and the slogans, merchandise and other actions match the general sexualisation of women. No other cancer is as sexualised as breast cancer – most are in universal body parts, testicular and prostate cancer campaigns tend to be sport related, and body parts such as the cervix and uterus aren’t seen as sexy, due to their gross involvement with reproduction (the actual purpose of breasts forgotten by sexism).

Whilst breast cancer awareness may be the most widely known, it often does as much to hurt victims of cancer and it does to help them. Not every person at risk for breast cancer is a celebrity and open to widespread scrutiny like Angelina Jolie, but they do not have access to the private medical care she does, nor do many have the love and support she presumably has in her friends and family. If the campaigns focus less on sexualisation and the fact that boobies are at risk, these people could have better cancer support, which is possibly the most important thing to learn from this news story.

6 Ways to Fundraise (Other than Running a Marathon)

The Boston Marathon, sidelined as it was by the explosion, and the London Marathon have just taken place, and there are many Race for Life and other charity run events. In fact, it seems that a lot of people run races to raise money for charity, to the extent that almost all fundraising on TV except for Comic Relief is by running.

Of course, not everybody is capable of running a race, even if the thing incapacitating them is the fact that they hate running. There are at least six other ways to fundraise for your chosen charity or cause…

1 Make things, sell things

A classic bake sale is good for people who are good at baking, and other make-and-sell options exist for other people. For one, why does it have to be cakes at a bake sale? In fact, any kinds of food can be made and sold in exactly the same way as a bake sale, or as a meal event.

Clothes are another obvious thing to make, and knitting, crochet and sewing are well known make-your-own-clothes techniques. Fabric paints or pens, and other printing techniques make it astonishingly easy, and can be made in designs relating to the charity or cause. On top of that, badge, sticker and magnets makers exist, and can similarly be used well by people new to design and craft.

Cards, artwork and jewellery are all things people would be happy to buy, can be related to the charity or cause, and have plenty of guides and tools to help with their design and creation. In fact, the possibilities are endless; if you make it and sell it, it’s something you can make and sell.

2 Shave or grow some hair

A classic fundraiser for cancer is shaving your head, as it reflects that people getting chemotherapy often lose their hair. Of course, shaving your head is quite a commitment, and cutting long hair short can also be a great fundraising action. A drastic haircut can also be related to many causes, and hair can be donated to wig making charities.

Humans don’t only grow hair on the heads; men, who don’t tend to, can shave body hair to raise money. Similar to this, someone with impressive or signature facial hair might shave it off in the same way. These could be related to many causes, as well.

From shaving moustaches to growing them; ‘Movember’ is a campaign to raise money for testicular cancer, having grown from the less-exclusionary No Shave November. Growing facial or body hair can be related to many causes, and can be enjoyable, too.

3 Gambling

No, not you, silly! You can’t raise money by gambling the money you do have, that’s an established fact, accepted by all but deluded of gamblers. No, just as the dealer, casino or house always wins, you can run some sort of gambling game. Sticking with a casino feel, if you know the rules to any casino-type games you can be dealer, and often make quite a profit for your chosen charity or cause. Classic games that just need cards, and chips if you’d like, include various versions of poker, 21 or blackjack, and baccarat.

But don’t be put off by the word gambling, even if your charity or cause is connected to a religious group or children. Gambling isn’t always casino-like, and forms of gambling include raffles, bingo and guess-the-weight/name/amount games are seemingly exempt from moral prohibition.

The point of running a game of this sort is that the odds are both worth the risk for players, and guarantee a profit for you. In charity settings, therefore, people are happier to play higher risk games and to lose; their bet is a donation, and the game is for fun.

4 Show off a skill

Ideas like making and selling things involve skills, but there are almost as many types of skill as there are people. If you have a performance skill such as acting or dance, a performance is a great fundraiser. Making a video can include performance, scriptwriting and music skills, as well as filming and editing.

Those are still creative skills, and any skill can be used to raise money. Simple skills like skipping or ‘keepy-uppies’ can be made into sponsored challenges, which children can take part in, or even world record attempts!

A skill isn’t just something you’re good at doing, it’s often something you’re good at being. A classic example of a quality you might have is bravery; a classic brave fundraiser is sky diving! The main thing about showing off a skill is that you pick something that you’re good at, and that makes your action more impressive, and can even make donations feel more like paying to see your skill.

5 Make a fool of yourself

The only thing you need to be able to do for this one is laugh at yourself. People are happy to encourage friends and family to make fools of themselves, and if they see how willing you are to be the joke, they’ll know the charity or cause you’re fundraising for must mean a lot to you.

A nice easy idea is to dress up as something silly; maybe go to work dressed as Spiderman or take pictures of yourself around town in your pyjamas. Sitting in a bath full of beans is quite classic, and anything with an ‘icky’ factor works just as well, if you’re willing. You could even go as far as something you’ve seen on a gameshow like I’m a Celebrity… if you wanted!

Other ways to make a fool of yourself as a fundraiser are simple; just as showing off a skill is doing something that you’re good at, you can choose to ‘show off’ something that you have no skill for. For example, a person with no rhythm or dance skill doing a dance performance would certainly count as making a fool of themself!

6 Throw a party

If you can keep the prices down, and have a way to advertise (such as an organisation, or social media like facebook and twitter) then throwing a party can raise a fair amount through ticket sales and donations. To add to the money you raise, you can include any other fundraising idea as part of it, or as the theme itself.

As well as having a theme, throwing a party doesn’t necessarily mean a typical party; you could have a dinner, or an auction, such as date auctions, or even a fundraiser day, where the main attraction is the fundraising events. What kind of event it is, thinking of it as a party helps with the organisation; it’s easy to forget about decorations or invitations, but they let people know that you’ve put the effort in.

With an event, you have a date and time; people know when you’re throwing the party, and won’t want to know why you haven’t done it yet, or why they’ve missed it. It also means that, unlike some other ideas, you have to choose a date or deadline, which gives you a timeline to prepare in. It can be easy to have good intentions and a good idea, but procrastinate or let life get in the way and never really get it done.

If you’re fundraising for a charity or cause, or just thinking about it, good luck!