Fundraising for the Red Cross

Unlocking the power of professional sales experience

My fundraising team in front of a ‘Sanka’ of the Bavarian Red Cross, Image source

The following post is about my experience from the first summer of fundraising, reworked with the insights from the second summer of fundraising.

In summer 2020, I was a fundraiser for the Red Cross in Germany, a job unlike any other. For an entire week, the first thought in the morning was:

This job is so strange.

In the second week I got used to it and now, six weeks and over 100,000 Euro in collected donations later, I feel able to formulate where this feeling came from and what it means.

But let’s start from the beginning.


The Red Cross is an important aid agency in Germany with a variety of services, the main one being emergency medical services. If you have an accident, the organization most likely coming to your aid within minutes is the German Red Cross. Bavaria, the region responsible for the Lederhosen-stereotypes, is a always the odd one out and therefore naturally has its own subsection, the Bavarian Red Cross (BRK). It is mainly paid for by health insurance and state funding, but parts of it rely on donations from the general public, in particular the training and equipment of volunteers but also better general equipment support for associated organizations like the Wasserwacht (“water-guards”).

Bavarian Red Cross
The logo of the Bavarian Red Cross


And this is where fundraising comes into play. When was the last time you finished lunch, thought “Hey, I should donate to XYZ?”, and actually transferred money? If you are anything like me, this has happend once in your life, and it wasn’t for the Red Cross. Therefore, we are a great example why fundraising donations is important. People need a reason to donate money, a spark or maybe a gentle push. Sometimes the spark comes in the form of Red Cross volunteers saving you after a car crash, and sometimes the gentle push is fundraiser knocking at the door, starting the pitch with “Hallo, Servus, I’m from the Red Cross. We are here in Hintertupfing for our big support campaign. Your neighbors are already supporting us, surely you will also join in!"

It works. Door-to-door fundraising is empirically shown to be the most effective and also most efficient form of convincing people to donate, if it is done professionally, with the right training and expertise, for example though agencies like KOBER GmbH. Letter campaigns sometimes barely break even while our door-to-door fundraising effort brought in the costs tenfold and more. G“This is how your local Red Cross can train and equip the volunteers that keep you safe, day and night!" The 100000 Euro I mentioned before is the money just from “my” donors that will go to the Red Cross over the following 7 years - the average duration a donor keeps contributing.

Why it works. We all want to do good deeds. But usually, this desire to contribute to worthwhile causes is buried under several layers of doubts, laziness, and indecisiveness. Our task as fundraisers is to unblock the desire and let the money flow to where it is needed, while leaving the donor with a smile. That good feeling is important, because donors can terminate their support at any time: “We are the Red Cross, we are known for our voluntary nature, that’s why you decide what amount you want to support us with and for how long you want to support us." Just pressuring or guilt-tripping people to donate or to donate higher amounts might work initially, but if it does not feel right, they will cancel the support, and fundraisers rightfully only get a comission for donors that stay for two or more years.


Based on my six weeks of experience I will crystallize what I find so special about door-to-door fundraising.

1. The job is intense If the job does not follow you into your dreams you are lucky, then it is only 16/7 instead of 24/7. Every minute you are not pitching at a door, you spend with your team, cooking, talking about the pitches of the day, or training your pitch (called “the talk/chat”). In the morning you get up at around 8:00, prepare, drive to “the area”, work, return at 21:30, shower, train the pitch, cook, eat, sleep and repeat. More often than not it is past midnight when you finally crawl into your bed. The free time on Saturday nights and Sundays is of course spent with the team as well. The pitching itself is done alone, but the colleagues are a source of strength and comfort during this time. Alone in a place you have never been, focused solely on fundraising, the team quickly becomes the major anchor of social stability and very important for emotional support. Thinking of my team members and sharing my stories in the evening helped me quite a lot during emotionally tough hours. But it is not just about the friends and the good deeds. The financial incentive is a really strong driver, but this raw motivation needs to be wrapped in many layers of positive mood and mindset (see below). Nevertheless, without this driver, the job is so emotionally draining that I can understand well why the Red Cross does not send its volunteers to ask for money; “Yes, you are right, I am not a volunteer. That would not be fair if the volunteers also need to go out in their free time to ask for donations so that they can be better prepared to save your live when you have an accident."

2 No does not mean no It may sound provocative, but if a fundraiser takes each no for a no right away, the Red Cross would only get a fraction of the funds it does. The first reaction of “the citizen” usually is a no. Only about 1 out of 10 of my donors said yes right away after my introduction pitch. Most say “no” - but still keep the door open - or more commonly say “no, because …” and especially the latter is definitely something I could work with. A rule of thumb is: The first no is a reflex, the second no reflects doubts about the procedure or too little knowledge of the things the Red Cross does in the area, and only the third no may reveal the real unwillingness to donate. After each no you “do another round”, modify the pitch, dispel concerns, talk about the value the Red Cross brings. For some people, you recognize the first no as definitive, but with a few people you can do as many as 10 rounds and get a a yes and a smile at the end. Learning when to stay firm and when not to is very important for the success of a fundraiser. It requires a lot of resilience to hear “no” after “no” and pushing back every time calmly and with an unbroken positive mood, but if you leave right away, you will not get the feeling that you are a good fundraiser that can motivate people and “burn through a lot of area” for very few donations.

3. Mindset is crucial This sounds a lot like the hustle-culture and I am generally critical of this attitude, but in fundraising the mindset was much more directly linked to my success than in other things that I did. For my study or other jobs, I get things done eventually regardless of how I feel, and the mindset affects the quality, efficiency, and enjoyment, but in fundraising, the mindset makes or brakes the pitch. The mindset is not just about a positive mood, but also beliefs about fundraising and people such as:

Everybody wants to donate. Donating to the Red Cross is the most natural thing in the world to do.

Adopting this mindset was a weird thing for me as a critically thinking person to do, but I got used to it - o some degree. Still, success often seemed nearly random, especially in the early days, and it is difficult to understand the fluctuations and easy to get demoralized. Later, I noticed clearly how my mood affected my ability to “write doors”.

4. All paths lead to Rome Everybody can and needs to find their own way of doing the pitch, because ultimately your pitch needs to be able that you can 100% stand behind and do with full conviction (or at least fake conviction convincingly enough) repeatedly, dozens of times a day, for weeks on end. One of my team colleagues had a fundraising persona that explodes with joy and engergy (a high energy fundraiser), and one was so calm and seemingly desinterested that he almost seemed depressed. Both of them were “writing” very well. And most importantly, for both of them their fundraising persona was similar to their true personality, with allowed them work for long periods of time while investing relatively little energy. A crucial concept for high-intensity jobs.


It is the toughest job I’ve done until now. However, the performance-based earnings, the team spirit, the many friendly and funny people I met, being outside all the time, and learning so much about myself - all these things made up for the hardships. I am certain that fundraising is a great job for most people to try at least once, if not for the money, then for the experience and the insights.

Felix Schweigkofler
Felix Schweigkofler
Research Assistant, MSc

I would like to know how living works