Alexandra Tselios

About Alexandra Tselios

Founder and CEO of The Big Smoke, Alexandra oversees the leading digital content platform in both Australia and the USA. As a social and technology commentator, she is interviewed most days of the week on radio and appears on ABC's The Drum and ABC News24. Alexandra is also a Director of NFP think tank, Plus61J, which explores the political and social ties between Australia and Israel; and sits on the board of Estate-Planning FinTech start-up NowSorted.

When they can legally harass you under the guise of charity

A few weeks ago I mentioned to the TBS editorial staff that I wanted to write a short piece on the people who stand on street corners collecting money for charity. The idea was met with different levels of concern about how I would word this as people might not take it in the spirit intended.

I then cautiously drafted something up and let it sit in my “think tank” file. I have always believed in a country that supports our vulnerable and I firmly believe in a government that supports a well-structured welfare system. I also believe, if you are able, that you should give to those less fortunate who need a bit of the support of the community regardless of whatever the reason which may have bought them to this place. I always urge generosity, even if its your time rather than financial. In fact, my friend Rabbi Mendel Kastel will be writing a piece for TBS in the next couple of weeks about how many of us are just a few pay cheques away from being in serious trouble ourselves. So this is an issue incredibly close to my heart and no one is immune to hardship.

In saying that, over the summer break I grew increasingly weary of the “smiling assassins” that congregated at the corner of shopping centres and train stations. I already find various other smiling assassins irritating – for instance, when  I am purchasing a cheap skirt far too young for me from a store and the 16-year-old sales assistant calls me “hun” and asks about my weekend. I find this irritating – it’s different to friendly service, it’s patronising and maybe they should just be quiet and let me shop.

I feel the same when I see these people at the train stations and shopping centres smiling at me as I start fumbling with my earphones in an attempt to quickly become unavailable to passers-by conversation.

Yet they always get me.

“Hi! What is your name? Lovely sunglasses! Can I just please have two minutes of your time? PLEASE?”

The pathetic begging either has two reactions from me. Sometimes I rattle off some comment about how I am deeply involved in charity but am on the way to a meeting. Other times, usually when I am tired, I get caught off guard and end up speaking to them for just over 30 seconds. Which is 30 seconds too long. And my thought upon leaving inevitably becomes “God I hate {insert worthwhile organisation}”. Never admit this kind of thing at a dinner party, people will think you are an absolute bitch.

So, when Mumbrella’s Tim Burrows wrote a piece this week on the potential damage these fundraisers are doing to their brands, I wanted to thank him. This is exactly how I felt, far better articulated, and suddenly I didn’t feel like such a jerk any more. It is not a reflection of my own inability to be generous, but rather a growing frustration watching these charitable organisations doing a disservice to their own cause by placing annoying, overly fake and smiling do-gooders in my way. This is not Supré. This is someone’s life, an opportunity to capture an audience, and I feel it’s being wasted by misguided mismanagement.

The problem is, now I associate that charity with being annoying and intrusive – their brand is soiled. That is a totally unfair conclusion to make, but that’s just where I am, and many people I know, are at. I want to give to worthwhile causes, and I want to know about the campaigns that require funding. I just would rather be notified by less intrusive ways such as ads on websites I frequent or via signage than by being literally stopped in the street and guilted into a conversation.

For the record, there exist several charities I nearly always give money to when I see them out on the street but I’m very selective about them, and do you want to know why? They haven’t blocked me from walking past them by coercing me into a discussion neither of us want to have, but rather politely stood there obvious about their intentions and humbly thankful upon receiving a donation.

It is about utilising your resources as a charitable brand in a way that does not unintentionally irritate the public or waste “human capital” by standing around public spaces. It seems a complete waste of someone’s time when they could be making calls to align in ways that would actually bring about stronger campaign recognition and/or monetary donations. I would love to know what the return on investment is on such a day’s work, and the number of people who have actually signed up with a real email address to donate on a monthly basis in comparison to the people who will now roll their eyes when they see that organisations name next time.

Gauging the reactions of others like me who avoid street collectors like the plague, I think I already know the answer…

(ed’s note – Check back in a couple of weeks when Nick Spellicy brings his own slant on charity collectors…)

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