Like many people, I'm at my local shops every day. I tread a well-worn path between the Post shop, the bakery and the supermarket. And when I venture out I'm invariably on a mission. I have a list, a firm deadline - and no time whatsoever to squander on the people representing charities and other worthy causes who seem intent on slowing me down.
I must have entered a state known as "charity fatigue" but I'm never sure how best to respond to someone shaking a plastic bucket or holding a clipboard. You can avoid eye contact and hurry on past. You can smilingly shake your head or say you'll be back later. You can say you've got no spare cash or that you've already given to the collector on the other corner.
Charities have two key problems when it comes to street appeals. The first is the fact that few people carry cash these days. Electronic banking is such a part of our lives I've long been predicting the demise of old-fashioned street collectors. I know I seldom have coins on me; I even pay parking fees by text. Perhaps charities of the future will arm their volunteers with portable Eftpos terminals.
Another issue facing charities is that some street corners are well and truly overworked. Some sites are so coveted that they're used every weekday of every year. While the location may represent fresh pickings as far as one particular collector for one particular charity on one particular day is concerned, locals may feel thoroughly jaded from being targeted each and every time they pass this spot.
I've had a few memorable encounters over the years. Most notable was the young Greenpeace guy outside the National Bank who asked if I had a few minutes to spare. "Not at the moment, thank you," I replied. All would have been well if my progress hadn't immediately been impeded by a busy road and a red light at a pedestrian crossing.
As I waited to cross, the Greenpeace gentleman proceeded to mock me and do a little dance right in front of me. "Not at the moment, thank you. Not at the moment, thank you," he parroted in a French accent as his dreadlocks bounced up and down. It was awkward. I'd never been so glad to see the signal to cross so I could escape his singsong, passive-aggressive (and surely uncalled for) mimicry.
It's not all bad though. The young men raising funds for disabled athletes are unfailingly polite. Once while leaving the supermarket I tried to give them a $5 note. To my surprise they insisted that they couldn't accept it. Evidently unless I purchased the raffle ticket or filled out their paperwork they weren't permitted to take any money. Another time, while a band from the North Shore played for spare change outside our local supermarket, I wondered what could possibly have inspired them to journey across the Harbour Bridge and spurn at least four closer New Worlds before reaching this one.
It's clearly a challenge for charities and other worthy causes to keep their street appeals relevant. To assist with this mission I'd like to suggest they consider whether particular sites have become stale through overuse. Also perhaps local groups should think about fund-raising in their own communities rather than cynically looking further afield. And, finally, maybe charities should advise their street representatives that mocking passers-by might not be the most effective way of promoting their cause. It's just a thought.
What's your response to street appeals? Are you still receptive to them or are there just far too many of them these days?