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Student Summer Work: The trials of charitable canvassing

It’s only for the thick skinned — get ready for rejection
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For the first four hours of my shift I brought in nothing but $20; an average night’s quota is $120. Most people didn’t open their doors, either because they weren’t home, or they weren’t interested. Many told me they had already done their donating for the year, that I was the fourth canvasser this week to come by, or just that they never gave at the door.

Some people were rude. One man laughed the moment I started my pitch about BPA in baby bottles, and said, “Yeah, cool,” before closing the door. Another scolded me in frustration as he was “literally sitting down to dinner.” The last house I knocked at, I made someone furious. A chorus of small, yappy dogs started up from behind the door, startling me. After a few moments, a young woman appeared. She tilted her head up and rolled her eyes in the most exaggerated way possible, and then fixed me with a look of hatred that startled me more than the dogs. She proceeded to yell at me for making her dogs bark and waking up her baby before slamming the door. I still had only $20 and my shift was almost over.

The thought that “I can’t do this” echoed in my head over and over. I needed to get off the street, away from the stress and humiliation. I took a walk. Once I reached another road, I sat on the sidewalk to rest for a few moments and attempted to suppress tears of frustration. The pity parade needed to end. I stood up and took a few more breaths. I walked back to my street.

The door of the next house I went to was opened by a kind woman who was interested in what I had to say. She ended up giving a monthly donation. This was my first one, and meant that I made quota for the night.

I managed to stick canvassing out for a month and a half. Unfortunately, making quota was never easy, and I brought the stress of that home with me after every rough shift. It’s discouraging to work hard for five hours and have nothing to show for it, and if you have too many of these nights you have to worry about job security. Eventually, I was verbally accosted by someone at their door with serious anger issues, and I quit. The stress was too much.

I would only recommend canvassing work for those with a thick skin and an extraverted, assertive personality. You must be able to deal with constant rejection and occasional loathing. You must also be able to accept that luck is as much a factor in your success as hard work or talent.

Furthermore, be careful choosing a company to work for. Do your research; there are scams. It is usually better to work directly for an organization or charity than through a for-profit third party. Mixing charity and profit is pretty disconcerting. Some organizations may “hire” five or six people when there is only one position, and what seems like a job offer may really be an audition.

To all of those people on the other side of the door: that person holding the clipboard is a person. Maybe you’ve had a few of them knock on your door recently, maybe you’re really busy right now, or maybe your many dogs barked and woke up your baby. But this person deserves your respect. If you are not interested, please politely decline.

Sage Irwin is a third-year student at Trinity College studying women and gender studies and English