You’ll see them in every crowded shopping centre, in the pedestrian shopping malls of big cities, sporting bright t-shirts, clipboards, and friendly smiles. They’ll spot you from across the walkway, and with your growing sense of dread they’ll try and make eye contact and engage you in conversation.

They’re the fundraisers, the can-shakers, the street marketers; they’re the public face of large charities out there on the ground, trying to raise money for causes as diverse as they are.

Every not-for-profit organisation does it, from Greenpeace to Amnesty International, to the Red Cross, to Save The Children, and the reason they do it this way is because it works. Research has shown that getting people out there actively asking for donations gives them a fairly decent return for their cause.

So who’s out there that you might run into, and what should you do when approached?

Charities and Not-For-Profits

Members of charity or not-for-profit organisations are the most common types of street fundraisers. They’ll usually be young, energetic, friendly people, most of the time a student or a backpacker, in brightly coloured t-shirts emblazoned with the organisation’s logo, who try really hard to make contact with you.

They’ll approach you quite proactively—they might wave and ask how you’re going, or ask if you’ve got two minutes to talk about a cause, or ask a leading question like “$2 a day isn’t much, is it?” Some of the more confident fundraisers might compliment you, or start the conversation with an overly-friendly “heeeeey, there he is!”

These types of street fundraisers normally work in teams of two, strategically placed in locations around shopping areas that get the highest foot traffic. For these companies it’s a numbers game—they stop and ask hundreds of people a day, hoping that a small percentage will sign up. And for the most part, they’re really good at their job. If you do end up stopping and chatting, there’s a good chance you’ll end up signing up to donate.

While some might seem pushy or invasive, always remember that they’re just people like you trying to do their job. They get paid on commission, so they’re going to try every tactic they can to sign someone up.

Fundraising

Some organisation you’ll see simply have people out shaking a tin, or with a stand where you can buy a ribbon or a flower or some other piece of merchandise, and require no more than a one-off donation. These are usually organisations that raise money for cancer awareness, or groups like the Royal Australian Life Savers. They’re friendly, unobtrusive, and very visible, and they’re usually run by volunteers or active members of the organisation for which they’re raising money, so they won’t make you feel bad about not donating.

Religions

Religious street marketers are a different breed. They’re not usually there to get your money (although some can be)—they’re out there to spread their beliefs. In general, these types of street teams will be a lot more vocal about what they’re selling. They might shout to no one in particular, or they might stand quietly but fervently handing out pamphlets. You’ll most commonly see a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses standing to one side of a busy shopping avenue, handing out pamphlets and newsletters from their display. Generally, they won’t actively seek you out for conversation, so don’t feel bad about walking past.

The salespeople

The last common group of people you’ll see on the street are the salespeople, with their displays loaded with bright pictures advertising a good deal on their product or brand. This will usually be for somewhere like a gym or an outdoor adventure sport like paintballing. These type of salespeople are a mixed bag—some may try and approach you and offer you a cheap gym membership, while others will just hang back, comfortable in the knowledge that their product is enticing enough. And to be fair, some of these products and deals are actually pretty good, so if you’re actually in the market for a good local gym or cheap paintball games, it won’t hurt to have a chat.

What should I do when approached?

By all means, if you believe in a cause and want to donate money, then go ahead and sign up to one of these charities. If you want to sign up on the street, great. But if you’d rather do it your way, head to the organisation’s website and donate through there. That way you know the majority of your money is going directly to their cause.

The important thing to remember is if you don’t want to sign up, then you absolutely don’t have to. Companies with street fundraisers are very aware of the damage that can be done to their brand if their street team are rude, or pushy, so if you’re friendly, if you smile and decline politely and keep on walking, there’s a good chance they’ll back off when you ask them.

It’s a rather thankless job, so a smile and a nod really go a long way.