Fundraising on the Subway

I was on BART, the SF Bay Area’s subway, heading into downtown Berkeley. My phone’s screen flashed – damn – I was *this* close to breaking my high score on Ninja Jump.

“Hey man, just want to give you a heads up, dont mean to scare or anything.” The words come from a few rows behind me. The train’s high pitched whine almost drowns it out.

The voice speaks again, this time much louder: “Excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, can I have your attention please.”

Wearing an electric green jacket, a tall black man is standing in the middle of the car holding two small plastic bind stacked on top of each other.

All kinds of interesting things can happen on BART.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I represent Project Love the Children. We are a group of people based out of Oakland and we’re working to help get kids in the Bay Area back in school. We are holding an event in Berkeley later in August to raise money for our programs.”

He’s standing in the row behind mine and his voice comes out loud and clear.

“If you’d like to learn more about what we do come see me. We’ve also looking for donations – even $5 helps. Thank you for listening and continue to have a great day.”

As he finishes he shuffles ahead to the front of the car and holds his bins out, then quickly walks backwards, past me and is then out of sight.

Distraction over, I turn back to my phone screen and play another round of Ninja Jump. I sigh – no one likes to be solicited – don’t they know that these things never work? As I slice my way through another level, I think –
But what if they are trying to do good work, but they just don’t know how to improve the way they fundraise

Ironically, I’m heading into Berkeley to volunteer at the Craigslist Foundation Nonprofit Bootcamp – where nonprofit professionals learn about things like better fundraising and stronger volunteer recruitment efforts. How much did the game that I’m playing cost? What this guy is raising funds for a cause that really is worthy – and he just doesn’t know a better way to spread awareness? I probably should have given something – else perhaps my behavior is going to be a bit consistent. Ah well, he’s gone now. Next time.

I fire up Ninjajump and slice up baddies for a few more rounds. Then I turn around – he’s still there! I peer into my wallet – a couple fives and some twenties. No more excuses.

Foolishly leaving my bag unattended, I walk over to the man holding a five. “I’d like to learn more about what your guys are doing” I say.

Now I see that his stacked bins hold candy on top and cash down below. He offers me piece of candy and lifts up the bin so I can drop my bill inside. We chat for a bit – sounds like they’re doing good work. I ask him how effective promoting on the subway has been. He pauses. “You know, doing this event has helped out a lot. And BART is good because people understand what’s going on in the community.”

We shake hands, exchange names and part ways. Him, off to another car to make more announcements and hand out candy & distorted over-copied flyers. Me, off to a workshop where professionals will deliver compelling elevator pitches and hand out totebags & beautifully designed full-color brochures.

The methods employed might throw you off, but most of the time people are trying to do the same thing.

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