scripts and interruptions

Last week I was waiting for a friend outside Liverpool Street Station. It was about 6.30 in the evening and the street was teeming with commuters rushing frantically in all directions. I was a bit early and tucked myself in a corner out of the mania and was using the spare ten minutes to catch up with some email correspondence on my phone.

I was engrossed in this task when I was interrupted by a street fundraiser, a young man who was extremely impatient to tell me about the work of the Red Cross.

He did ask me if I had a minute, but before I could answer he launched into his ‘script’.  Had I heard of the Red Cross? Did I know that the Red Cross were often first to respond to emergency situations. In Japan – as he pointed towards the direction of Moorgate, after the recent earthquake, the Red Cross apparently responded 8 minutes before other emergency services. He also told me a story of a woman in India who had been given a loan of £9.40 so she could set up a business and be self-sufficient and send her kids to school and she paid the money back and she was empowered and it was much better than a donation, etc, etc, etc…..

At this point he paused for breath – but not long enough to give me a word in edgeways and then he launched into ‘script part 2’ about how ‘no way’ did he want money, but could he call me in about six weeks after I had some time to reflect on this information.

Finally I had a chance to respond. I said that I wouldn’t be interested in a chat in six weeks. He looked a bit dejected.  I explained that I already give to my preferred charities and that I worked for a charity so understood exactly what a good job he, and the Red Cross were doing – and that he told a good story.

On this news he looked even more dejected. He quickly regrouped, thanked me for my time and practically skipped off into the crowds of commuters, presumably to repeat his script again.

I was left feeling uneasy about this interaction and have been mulling over what it was that just didn’t work for me. I think it was a combination of factors.

  • From the outset he got my back up because he interrupted me
  • I couldn’t get a word in until he had recalled his script
  • When I told him I didn’t want a call and that I worked for a charity I felt like I had deceived him and that’s why I felt uncomfortable. I would have liked the opportunity to be open from the outset
  • Six weeks is a long time to reflect. Even for me. After being so pushy, to then be asked if I could be called in 6 weeks didn’t feel consistent.  Do you need my money now or not? (I know its’ all about an engagement strategy, and I like this different approach to face to face engagement, but, for me it just didn’t feel right – the message didn’t match his approach)
  • I felt that he told a great scripted story, but it lacked authenticity. I didn’t believe he really knew about the Red Cross. I don’t think we could have had a two-way conversation.
  • It was all about him and his script, he didn’t listen or take me into account. (Shouldn’t fundraising be all about the donor?)
  • I acknowledge that I have the potential to be the fundraising Grinch; I mystery shop a lot of charities and companies, with a view to commenting on my experience, so I’m perhaps not your average person on the street.

I think that face-to-face fundraisers have a really tough job and they raise significant income for charities. I don’t want this to read as a pop at face-to-face. I don’t like being interrupted so I acknowledge that my unease is perhaps about me and my preferences – but how many other people are like me?  For me, a shift in tone or approach that involved an off script two-way conversation would have engaged me more and left me feeling very differently about the experience.

What do you think?  I’d be interested to know your views – or if your organisation has tried this approach and what the results were.

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4 responses to “scripts and interruptions

  1. I agree with you Lucy, this sounded like either a brand new fundraiser or a poorly trained one. Either way, not entirely the best conversation to have with a potential donor or an existing one come to think of it. Fundraisers are trained not only about the charities cause and examples of their work, but also to engage with the public and building rapport. Well majority of them are, I cannot speak for all In-house/agency fundraising teams though. Some are more able and better equipped than others at building rapport naturally, but majority will come down to training. Training fundraisers on building rapport, object response and knowing the charity they are representing inside & out. This is when mystery shopping comes in, all new fundraisers should be mystery shopped at least once within their first week – with so many people disliking F2F fundraisers, having guys on the street not listening to people and forcing charity causes down throats is only going to add to it. Sadly, I have also been stopped by a few pushy fundraisers over the years, but I hope that with an increase in awareness and more people willing to share their experiences that this will become less and less.

  2. Thanks Amy – good point re the importance of good training to ensure that all fundraisers, whether on the street, or for working in other fundraising disciplines or for fundraising agencies are able to listen and have the information, skills and belief to inspire people about the cause.

  3. Hi Lucy, thanks so much for this thought-provoking post. It seems to me that once again it’s about good management and… communication! Incredible isn’t it to think how much of a better place the world would be today if we were taught how to listen at school instead of sprouting forth tomes of knowledge to show how clever we are. It seems to me this is what your young man from the Red Cross was doing. In our rush to achieve it seems we could all do with learning to pause, take a deep breath or two, take a step back and listen. And engage; rather than hurtle on like a runaway train to nowhere. This way we might get to our destination a little more slowly, but at least we’d get the chance to enjoy the scenery. And possibly even connect on a deeper level with another human being in the process!

  4. Hi Lucy, great observation, and similar to experiences I have had. The reason is in part explained by the specific measures imposed on face to face fundraisers i.e. the sign ups to direct debits an agency is expected to deliver. This doesn’t allow for conversations. Defined results demand a script. And the pressure to deliver those results don’t end with the Director of Fundraising. They in turn are expected to deliver results and are under constant pressure to do so. So to have real conversations, ones which any fundraiser who truly understands and believes in their cause would relish with anyone prepared to give them some time, requires new measures and buy in right from the top. This sort of ‘broadcast’ messaging (i.e. one way) used to provide audiences useful information that was difficult to come by. It also provided a useful opportunity to sign up. Now I can find out information and sign up whenever I like online – at a time that suits me. I can also share my experience – good and bad to my network. The real added value a person could have would be to prompt you to do just that by engaging you. How refreshing if you had a genuine conversation that inspired you. What would your blog be about then? You still wouldn’t have signed up on the spot but the idea would be planted in your head. And how transformational would that be? Face to face becoming the means of having a great conversation.

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