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Street fundraising: Guilt-tripping into giving or welcome opportunity to donate?

Face-to-face fundraising has become an efficient strategy for charities in Finland to raise income.

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Greenpeace recruiter Reko Varilo. Image: Yle

Face-to-face fundraising has become a permanent feature in many Finnish cities.

The system of young recruiters signing up supporters in the street for regular donations has proven to be a highly effective strategy for organisations -- even if Finns find these encounters troubling. Pollster Taloustutkimus found that the majority of residents want to make charitable donations, but they don’t like being approached on the street. This type of fundraising has, however, become a key source of income for many charities operating in the country.

Reko Varilo, a 22-year-old recruiter for environmental organisation Greenpeace, told Yle it can take him up to 100 attempts to stop someone. He said charity recruiters use a variety of techniques to approach people, with workers sharing tips and practicing their strategies off the job.

"Signing up two new supporters on a 4.5 hour shift is a good day's work," he added.

"Do you care about human rights?"

Anssi Peräkylä, an expert in the dynamics of social interaction, said being approached by a recruiter blends personal and institutional spheres, enveloping the encounter in moralisation that can make people uncomfortable.

"We’re used to having a personal safety zone that these street fundraisers in some way encroach. For us, the encounter doesn’t happen on our initiative, leaving us helpless in the situation," Peräkylä explained. "Saying no is a visceral experience, and nobody wants to feel like a bad person."

Eighty-three percent of 15–79 year-olds in Finland told pollster Taloustutkimus they had made charitable contributions during the past year—ranging from donating cash to volunteering their time.

Effective strategy

"Finns want to support causes related to children and youth, fighting disease, helping the elderly and supporting developing countries—themes finances by face-to-face recruitment," explained Marika Laakso of Taloustutkimus.

Children’s rights advocate Unicef said face-to-face fundraising brought in 8,000 new regular givers in 2018. Human rights advocate Amnesty meanwhile said street recruitment accounted for 60 percent of its fundraising last year. Greenpeace said their troops signed up 75 percent of all new ongoing monthly donations on the street last year.

Varilo said he doesn’t take it personally when he sees people manoeuvring to the other side of the street to avoid him.

"A simple 'no thank you' will do just fine," he explained.

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