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May 2, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Peas & Queues – Charity Reps: The street menace

With the world coming down around our ears, and seemingly less money to go around, the streets are getting crowded with well-meaning but irritating charity reps all vying for your borrowed dollars.

Their numbers are growing so quickly that councils are only just catching up with by-laws to stop them from intimidating old ladies into forking over their pension. The rest of us are often caught off-guard, and accidentally or politely engage in conversation, invariably walking away with another $15-a-month commitment.

You’ll know these street menaces by their clipboards, their positive attitudes and more often than not, their UK accents. They’ll often leap out in front of you with a handshake at the ready, grinning at you like you’re old friends. If you’ve been meeting a lot of new people lately you might actually think you met them at that zombie party in first semester. You didn’t. They just want your signature and bank account number.

While I encourage you all to be charitable and, if your budget has room in it, to give regularly to a charity that you have researched and know is aligned with your values, it doesn’t mean you have to give in to every sprightly idealist on the street.

We’ve all avoided eye contact, pretended to be texting or talking on the phone, and sometimes crossed the street to bypass them—don’t be ashamed. You may also want to try*:

• Telling them to fuck off. I know it’s what you’re thinking. Just say it. It’ll feel good.
• Telling them you’re from another country so can’t sign up. This is risky, because if they’re fellow ‘travellers’, they may engage you in further conversation. I tried this once and our conversation ended in a hug. Try if you’re lonely.
• When they open with ‘Hi, do you care about the environment/Africa/children with disabilities?’ tell them, ‘No, I’m into mining/survival of the fittest/eugenics.’
• Pretend to be an over-worked, unpaid NGO worker who is ‘making a difference’ by working in the sector, sacrificing your other better-paying and more prestigious job offers to help people.
• Tell them you have a tight budget but do your bit by volunteering 10 hours a week (you should actually do this).
• As you approach, accept the eye contact, and then when you get about a metre away, point to their shirt or shoe with a look of confusion—they too, will look in confusion, long enough for you to make your escape.

A couple of things that won’t work:

• Under no circumstances should you tell them you already give their represented charity money. This will lead them to either ask for increased donation or give you a different form which asks you to sign up your friends (without getting paid to do so).
• Telling them you can’t afford it. They have ways of bamboozling you with sums that make you think you really can afford it and that after all that starving child/elephant really does need it more than you.
The most important thing though, is not to feel guilty about avoiding them—when you have your fancy degree and your fancy job, and can actually afford it, I know you’ll be good citizens and do it.
* These strategies can also be used with Hare Krishnas, politicians, those dudes selling their CDs outside Burger King and Israeli backpackers selling tacky jewellery

Need help with a sticky situation? Auntie Sharon may be able to help: auntiesharon@salient.org.nz

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