In the summer of 2020 I was a fundraiser for the Red Cross in Germany, a job unlike any other. In my first week I woke up every morning with one thought: This job is so strange. In the second week I got used to it and now after the sixth week I feel able to formulate what caused and still causes this feeling.
But let’s start from the beginning.
THE RED CROSS IN A NUTSHELL
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 of Germany which defines the typical “German” stereotypes such as Lederhosen etc. is a bit special and therefore has its own subsection, the Bavarian Red Cross (BRK). This service is mainly paid for by health insurance and state funding, but parts of it rely on donations from the general public, mainly the training and equipment of volunteers but also better general equipment and associated organizations like the water-guards.
FUNDRAISING IN A NUTSHELL
And this is where I come into play. Money does not flow freely, as anybody can imagine. When was the last time you stood up from your lunch and thought “Hey, I should donate to some organization?” and actually transferred money? People don’t just donate, they need a reason. For some that is an accident, for it is a letter at Christmas requesting funds and for still others it is a fundraiser knocking on their door. “Hello, Grüß Gott, I’m from the Red Cross. We are here in Hintertupfing for our big support campaign.”
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 though agencies like KOBER GmbH with the right training and expertise. Letter campaigns sometimes barely break even while our door-to-door fundraising brought the costs in tenfold and more. “This is the way the local Red Cross can train and equip the volunteers that keep you safe, day and night!”
People want to donate. But usually this deep longing to do something good is buried under several layers of doubts, laziness and indecisiveness. Our task as fundraisers is to unveil it and bring the money where it is needed while leaving the citizen with a smile and a good feeling. That is necessary, because they 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.”
Fundraising itself is no team effort. We are not Jehovah’s Witnesses who come in double packs. Everybody works on their own during the day, but the team is nevertheless a source of strength and comfort during this time, as they go through the same things as you. They are the people you see when you wake up and when you go to sleep, every day, the only constant. Thinking of my team and sharing my stories in the evening helped me quite a lot during tough hours. Also you can learn a lot from team members, their mistakes, their experiences and they reassure you in your struggle.
TOUGH AND A LITTLE BIT STRANGE
Based on my six weeks of experience I will crystallize what I find so special about door-to-door fundraising.
The job is almost 24/7. If you do not dream of it then you are lucky, then it is only 16/7. From the time you arrive at you accommodation to the time you leave, you are left with almost no private and social life anymore. Every minute you are not working you spend with your team, either talking about fundraising or training. In the morning you get up at around 8:30, prepare, are brought to the area where you will be for the day, work, arrive at home at 21:30, shower, train, eat, sleep and repeat. More often than not it is past midnight when you finally crawl into bed. Only Saturday nights and Sundays bring some free time - which is of course spent with the team.
No does not mean no. As provocative as it may sound - if I had said goodbye each time someone said no, the Red Cross would only have a fraction of the funds it has now. The first reaction of citizens usually is no. 10% of the people who donate say yes after the introduction. The rest says “no” (30%) or “no, because …” (60%). A pure “no” is tough, but you can work with a “no, because …”. A rule of thumb is: The first no is a reflex, the second no ist just doubt and the third no may reveal the real unwillingness to donate. Learning to go on with convincing the 90% in a friendly way is essential for success. It requires resilience, because it can be very demoralizing if you hear so many no’s in a row and still have to push back every time calmly and/or charmingly and/or energetically, depending on your style.
Only your performance counts, yet there is no stress. The job is 100% commission based and thus performance based, but there is no stress or pressure, no tasks you need to complete. You get your money for a successful donation which requires a talk and the completion of a form. That takes between 5 and 30 minutes, depending on the citizen you are talking with. How many of those donations you bring in, how many doors you knock on, if you rest for half an hour or 3 hours is up to you. It is like piecework, but very talent-based.
Success seems almost random in the beginning. Some days are bad, some days are good and it is difficult to grasp what causes the fluctuation. The team leader is an experienced fundraiser and trains the newbies during the first weeks, but still it is not easy to understand what is good and what is bad and how to improve. That can be very frustrating, but it feels great when you have success, when you are “writing door after door”.
It is honorable work with banal motives. The good cause gives you a comfortable feeling and you can see yourself as the good guy, but in the end it is about the commission, because that is the only money you will get for your hard work. And after all it’s work like every other - it needs to pay the bills. So the commission is the reason why you knock at door after door, while sweating from the heat reflected by the asphalt and the concrete buildings, when the rain is dropping from your hair into your eyes, while being hit by the smell of a stinky flat, while trying to drown out the barking of a dog, after being treated in a less-than-nice manner three times in a row. There is a reason why the Red Cross does not send volunteers to raise their funds. (However, in the first five weeks Kober pays at least €360 per week regardless of your performance and will cover all costs except food.)
It is the greatest job I’ve had until now. Really. The parts above may not make it sound like it, but the merit-based earnings, the focus on this and only this job during these weeks, the feeling of having my fate (commission) in my own hands, the team spirit, the people you meet, the joy of talking to friendly and funny people, being outside all the time, walking in the sunshine, learning so much about yourself and gaining knowledge of human nature - all these things made up for the hardships and made the job definitely worthwhile. I will surely do it again.
- It is all about mindset. Fundraising really helped me to realize that deeply. Your mindset will influence the willingness of people to donate. I must be convinced that they will donate, whatever the odds are. That is not easy for someone with a very realistic, rational worldview.
- Everybody has their own style. When it comes about bringing the best performance, everybody needs to find their own way of doing things, otherwise the results will only be mediocre. This is true everywhere, but here it becomes crystal clear.