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Does Dodging Canvassers Put You on Santa's Naughty List?

3p is proud to partner with the Presidio Graduate School’s Managerial Marketing course on a blogging series about “sustainable marketing.” This post is part of that series. To follow along, please click here.

By Nellie Stadtherr

I did it yesterday, I did it today… I’ve done it a thousand times. Living in a city saturated with canvassers, I avoid, deter, and just plain lie all of the time. As a generous, compassionate person, I am always a little surprised at how quick I am to intently check the emails I have already read or hear the words “Sorry, I’m very late to a (pretend) meeting” slip out of my mouth in efforts to stop the inevitable ask.

Today, as the spirit of the holidays adorned everything from my coffee cup to office lobby, I took special notice to the fact that I dismissed a canvasser with a farce of sorts without even taking the time to acknowledge their cause. The hurried smile I shared was filled with guilt as I mumbled something about already donating to their organization – however as I couldn’t take the time to look at their t-shirt I can’t tell you who it was I have “already donated” to. How could I be so dismissive and selfish? Here these people, and yes, they are people, spending their days in the cold and rain, trying to garner much needed support for causes I truly believe in and our society needs, and likely receiving feedback much worse than my snowflake-white lie. And I can’t even be honest with them or thank them for their dedication!? What am I, the Grinch? I deserve coal in my stocking for being so self-righteous, especially in this time of giving.

However, I have a sneaking hunch I’m not the only well-intended humanitarian who is guilty of this behavior. This has me wondering, how do the prevalence of canvassers impact an organization’s brand position? Does Greenpeace really want the first thing people think of when they think of their organization to be the person that makes them feel guilty and asks for money on a daily basis? Does this impart a resistance or negativity to the brand? If so, why do so many well-known nonprofits such as Save the Whales and Planned Parenthood continue to engage in this fundraising tactic?

The reason why is because these organizations get an impressive ROI from their efforts and raise awareness for their organization. Due to the low wages paid to canvassers, who are predominantly fresh-out-of-college youth looking to change the world, organizations like Children International can see up to 160% ROI on their efforts (Dwoskin, E. 2008).  Pretty impressive, especially for organizations like Greenpeace who receive over 80% of their revenue from contributions and donations (Greenpeace, 2011).

As for raising awareness for the organization, I’m still not convinced this is the best method. In our age of social media and social cause marketing, street canvassers seem ineffective if not just plain annoying. Sure, people may know who your organization is, but they will also know they’re continually having to run away from it.

But despite my position on the branding strategy of canvassing, I did internalize something today… A lie is a lie and ignoring those trying to make a difference on the streets is the same as those who have ignored sustainability professionals in the boardroom for years. These people are my comrades, the on-the-ground fighters for our shared passions. So even if it would be nice to saunter to my lunch without the inevitable “Excuse me, miss?” from the corner canvasser, I should have the decency to at least provide a genuine smile, hello, and a little bit of time. Not just because tis the season, but for the sake of humanity... and some stocking stuffers wouldn't hurt.