Saturday, November 01, 2008

I Hate Titles

... because I find it so hard to come up with suitable ones. Anyway, here's what happened.

A little while ago, someone rang the doorbell. I was alone and just warming up my lunch. There was a young woman and a young man outside, holding some files. They were from a well-known NGO. The woman did all the talking, except for the "Thank you, ma'am" the guy said at the end. Why am I writing about this? Because there were a couple of things about the encounter that annoyed me. Because I admire people who volunteer and I am sure this organisation does admirable work, so I was disappointed in the way they went about this. Of course, it might just be this person's fault, not the organisation's - which is why I'm not naming it.

She said they are "trying to raise awareness among working people". Then she asked if I was "working", and I said yes. She responded, "Great." I am sure she did not mean to come across as patronising (I'm sure they are asked to be positive and encouraging), but she definitely did. Then she invited in. Now this is something that usually gets my goat. It's my house - let me decide when to invite you in, especially when you've called without notice and I am alone at home. She did not bother asking if I had some time, or if it was convenient. But they were from an NGO, and I wanted to hear what they had to say.

As soon as they were in, she asked for water. Again, not a big deal, but it's just not something I would do. Not until I had established friendly relations first. (Not in these days, at least, where you can find bottled water at a store within every few metres.)

Anyway, she started off with asking me where I work. I said, "in an IT firm." For one, I saw no reason to give her the name of my employer - for another, it's so small and obscure that no one recognizes it. She then asked if I work at Cybage (?). I answered very succintly, "No." She then mentioned the name of someone at Cybage and asked me if I knew her. I had no idea where the conversation was heading at this point, but I am on my period and was feeling dizzy, so I just said 'no' so as not to prolong it. Thankfully, that ended that part of it, though I think she looked suspicious - like I probably did know her friend but was denying it.

She then talked about what the organisation does, and it seems to do significant, worthwhile work. It did not help that she seemed to have a rehearsed pitch, but I tried to look past that and listen to what she was saying. Then she came around to what I could do to help, and waved a form with lots of numbers in it, and spoke about tax benefits. There was no mention of volunteering, of spreading the word. This was just a polite demand for money. She shoved forms at me and ran through her rehearsed pitch without giving me a chance to say anything - and without of course, asking if I was interested, or if I was involved with any other causes.

I finally interrupted her to ask if I might speak. I told her that I am already involved with another NGO and I work with them. Then came the bit that most annoyed me. She did not graciously retreat, but pressed on, and spoke about not being able to ask for help from people who've never helped anyone (only she couched it in much less polite terms - I don't remember exactly and don't care to). At the moment, I was only irritated at the demand - as I always am when someone demands money of me: it's my money and I'll decide what to do with it, thank you. But there's another aspect that's more disturbing. She's going door-to-door and asking for money, and I'm sure they expect that many of the people they talk to are not involved with any charities. Yet she found it all right to speak disparagingly of them to me?

When she pressed on, I reiterated that I prefer to focus my energies on one cause. She then urged me to 'extend a bit'. I had to stand up and politely say, "I'm sure you understand" before they made their exit with something of an apology.

This makes me even more glad that I work with the wonderful people at Friends of Children: in all the time I have known them they have been always perfectly polite and generous. They always thank other volunteers for every bit of help, and never judge people who decline to help or make commitments that they don't keep. This is especially great because they are volunteers themselves, and take out so much time from their full lives to run the show.

It saddens me that an organisation that does great work needs to resort to disreputable sales tactics to ask for donations. By demonstrating a little politeness and respect, by telling the story of one disadvantaged person instead of talking vaguely about trafficked children and medical expenses, they might be much more effective. What do you think?


Praveen VS said...

Probabaly u were caught off gaurd. Ya but I understand exactly how u felt when they tried to barge into ur privacy.

Indian Home Maker said...

I too don't like people coming without calling, parroting lines without feeling (and without meaning them)and then demanding I give them some money. Very rarely do I feel they are genuine though I generally do give them money, it is not without a lot of doubt and even resentment.
I prefer to meet the people receiving or benefiting from the money...but if everybody felt like me way how will these organisations survive?

I think what we need is to make them learn some politeness, some more tact and some more empathy for the cause they are involved in. If they feel they will easily make us feel too.

Unmana said...

Praveen: yes, but it was more than that. I was saddened, basically that they were going about the process with so little politeness and grace.

IHM: Exactly how I felt. And while I might have been tempted if they had been nicer, I just feel my money is better used elsewhere - for instance, in FOC, where I see where it's going and how it's helping.