MS. REBECCA SHEIR
As more and more non-profits have to hustle for the almighty dollar, a number of them are turning that hustle over to canvassers, you know, those people who hit you up for donations as you walk down the street. Many canvassers make $15 plus benefits to do what they do. But there is a tradeoff, lots and lots and lots of rejection. So what motivates these workers to get up and pound the pavement day after day? Alice Ollstein hits the D.C. streets with a canvassing team from Greenpeace to see what life is like on the other side of the clipboard.
MR. DAVID MULLER
A man with facial hair like that loves the environment. I know from experience, sir, I know from experience.
MS. ALICE OLLSTEIN
D.C. native David Muller has about a year of canvassing for Greenpeace under his belt. Tall and bearded with a tattoo covering one arm, a Redskins cap and a booming voice, he usually has no problem signing up new members and not just crunchy hippie types.
You never know who's going to be what, who's a secret millionaire or, you know, that guy in the suit actually moonlights for Greenpeace or for any other organization so I definitely try to approach every single person I can. I've signed up every single kind of person there is.
Since Greenpeace doesn’t take any government or corporate money, it depends entirely on memberships and donations and relies on canvassers to get them. The canvassers get an hourly salary well above minimum wage, plus healthcare and other benefits. But they have to earn they keep by meeting daily quotas.
MR. LINCOLN DEFFENBAUGH
I don't think a lot of people will be like well that canvasser has health benefits. It's like absolutely, yes, they do. They're treated -- I mean, it's a real job.
That's Lincoln Deffenbaugh who trains and manages all the Greenpeace canvassers in D.C. He prepares them for the difficult situations they might encounter, such as a rainy day where no one wants to stop and talk or how to enthusiastically pantomime when the majority of people are wearing headphones or talking on their cell. Even without the unforeseen challenges it's a bit of an uncomfortable job.
I mean, we do what your mother told you not to. We talk to strangers about politics and we ask them for money.
Between the pressure and the rejection, it's not for everyone. Some have even quit on their first day. Others struggle to meet their signup quotas and if extra training doesn't help, they could be asked to leave.
We do have to make sure that we're funding the campaigns that we're talking about not just throwing money down the drain.
Even star canvassers like Dave get a lot of...
Sorry, we're late.
During a tough day out on the streets, he has to work at staying positive.
You got to definitely remember to forget your insults, remember your compliments. You never know what kind of day somebody's had or, you know, what they're coming from, if they're unhappy, if they just lost their job, if you've had family issues or whatever. So when you someone that's super-negative to you, it definitely lets you just be able to roll it off your back.
There are canvassers in every major city but D.C. is a unique beast. One of Deffenbaugh's many duties is to make sure his team and the five or six other non-profits that canvas in D.C. don't setup on the same corner on the same day.
Because no one wants to run into an HIC canvasser and then a LGBT canvasser and then a Planned Parenthood canvasser and then have Greenpeace be on the same block. That's not beneficial for those groups or for us or for the people walking down the sidewalk. By the time they get to you they're like nope, I talked to them. You're, like, it's different. They're, like, no I don't really care. I just want to go.
He says people in the District are so up on politics that the canvassers have to really know their stuff.
I've canvassed in New York City, I've canvassed in Orange County, California. I've canvassed all over the west. It was Utah, Colorado, Montana, Arizona. The one really big difference in D.C. is that those people are already politicized so it's kind of a different kind of conversation.
So what happens when the economy takes a nosedive? Are people really going to donate money if they're struggling to get by themselves?
I've personally found on the sidewalk that even in a time of economic downturn people are still willing to set aside something for an issue like this and almost more so in some cases.
But not always. People say they're in debt or they've lost their job, or they just don't have any money to spare. Sometimes they're apologetic about it, sometimes combative but Deffenbaugh says the conversation is just as important as the money.
I get people who are rude to me every day and that's totally fine. I do think it is necessary for people to keep up like healthy democratic discussion alive. When people stop talking to one another and they just turn on their televisions and they stop, you know, engaging in critical discussion on issues, I think that's when you see a democracy not be so healthy anymore. So at least give us that, at least give us that.
From Foggy Bottom to Columbia Heights to Capitol Hill, the canvassers will be there five days a week, rain, shine or snow-magedon in a city where time is money, they'll continue to try to convince you to give up just a little bit of both. I'm Alice Ollstein.
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