Increasingly I have been feeling survivor’s guilt every time I pass by the street canvassers who populate the sidewalks. If you ever walk around downtown, you know them- young, attractive and smiling at you in their blue polo shirts with their clipboards. I’ve noticed them now for at least 2 years and recently I have started chatting them up. From my conversations with them, I have learned that they are raising money for Children’s International, a nonprofit. But they are hired by a for-profit company Dialogue Direct who contracts their labor.
These young people get paid about $10 an hour plus commission and from what I hear, they get fired right away if they don’t meet quote. My guess is that on a good day they may close the deal a handful of times, so they hear hundreds of noes before they get one yes. Brutal. Because I am a fundraiser, I have great sympathy for them more than for their cause. I wish I could slip one of them a twenty and tell them to go buy themselves a good meal or a beer. But I know that in their idealistic zeal they’d rather earn their money funneled through their employers pocket’s first.
I ended up in a lengthy conversation today with a canvass manager. He was affable and was obviously quite good at what he does considering he was with Dialogue Direct and Children’s International for 4 years. Whew, he’s a veteran in the grassroots fundraising game. Apparently Children’s International started in Europe and UK and they decided to test the street canvass model in the US. From research, Children’s International is a legit charity doing humanitarian work through “saving” one child at a time. However, Children’s International will supply a child (and indirectly their family) with food, water, medicine, and school books. But it does nothing to change the conditions that led to poverty in the first place.
How much Dialogue Direct takes off the top before giving to Children’s International is anybody’s guess. And Children’s International takes 20% of the top for administrative expenses. (Including a hefty CEO salary). Dialogue Direct is obviously making some money from their operations and this Flickr story asked some interesting questions.
After giving this issue some thought, I am thoroughly nauseated to see that Dialogue Direct/Children’s International is a vacuum sucking up spare change on the sidewalks and then taking all that money to pay other people who are about “helping” children. The truth is sponsorship programs do not give money directly to poor children and their families. Instead, there is an infrastructure of people who benefit from this charity including Dialogue Direct for-profiteers, canvassers, field organizers, and producers of products. In these recessionary times, I am fine that we have another employer out there, but it is working on the backs of poor children.
My friend Rich is on the telephone right now while I am writing my blog post. While he agrees the sponsorship concept is odious, it can serve a purpose. Sponsorship humanizes the suffering in the world and can put people on the path of compassion. And that compassion can lead to political action.
Because Children’s International does nothing to solve the root causes of poverty, they support the perpetuation of poverty and the endless cycle of ineffectual charity. And if you look at the statistics of the millions of preventable deaths every year and how little the U.S. gives there needs to be political action.
So I will gladly say, I won’t sponsor a child with Dialogue Direct/Children’s International. But I’m not off the hook morally or financially. I have money in my pockets that need to go elsewhere.