We’ve all heard it.
“Would you like to donate to our service trip?”
It’s quite possibly my least favorite thing to hear on campus, besides maybe “pop quiz!” or “RA! Open up!” That’s less because I’m not generous—I unwittingly gave about $50 in small donations last year—and more because nobody likes to be solicited for money into and out of the Dining Hall every single meal.
But that's not the biggest problem here; I'm just irritable. Not only are these solicitations annoying, but they are misguided and in serious need of reform.
First of all, it’s really not fair to single someone out of a crowd and ask for a donation; if someone wants to donate, they should be allowed to take the initiative. That's part of what makes charity charity; people reach out to other people because they want to and not because they’re “peer-pressured” into doing so. The next time you’re asked for a donation, consider: what are you accomplishing? Do you want to help people, or do you want to appease the solicitors?
Service-trippers: instead of being louder and more obnoxious, try making your “donation station” more visually exciting, noticeable and interesting to grab attention and show effort.
Second, the constant badgering is burning out the student body. My inability to say no to these service-trippers is my problem; I know most of you readers take “the walk,” by which I mean you stand up a little straighter, look directly ahead and blow right past these would-be volunteers before they even have time to ask you for money.
Very few of you might offer a polite “no” and even fewer will actually donate. There’s a tangible aura of disillusionment, frustration and cynicism in the air around those tables. There’s reasonable cause to fear this attitude might stay with students after they graduate.
Service-trippers: instead of simply asking for money, take some time to tell people where it’s going. These would-be donors, including myself, are burnt out because they can’t see the bigger picture. Maybe there are “bad apples” out there who can’t honestly say their “service trip” is more than a wild party abroad, but most of you aren’t like that! In fact, it’s good that you’re taking time from your vacation to help someone else.
But people can’t care about that if they don’t know about it. Your presentation shouldn’t just be a mission statement, either. It should also involve your detailed strategy for helping people. Visual aids are a serious plus. People will donate if you convince them it matters—not to you, but to the ultimate beneficiary.
Third, everyone involved—donors, volunteers—need to remember that, for the vast majority of the student population, it’s not their money on the dining plan.
No, in general, it’s their parents’ money. Say you wanted to donate. Before you do, consider it from your parents’ standpoint: they give you money for food. It’s a large sum and the food in question tends to be overpriced, but your parents want the best for you, so they pay the money without complaint. However, it’s understood that this money will go to food. Then, someone turns around and asks for you for money in the name of some vague “greater good.” Imagine your parents finding out that, in addition to spending almost literal tons of money to send you here, some of your food money went to the “service trips” of other students.
My parents probably wouldn’t react well.
The “greater good” achieved by your donations is even more ambiguous from your parents’ standpoint: it’s their money, and for the most part they aren’t even part of the conversation.
At least, not until you run out of money on your meal card. Which does happen, by the way, donors and service-trippers alike. Especially underclassmen (no offense) tend to think they have plenty of money. They don’t. It’s a lot of money, but the food’s expensive. That $10 donation you just gave? Yeah, that was about the cost of a meal.
Would-be donors: Remember it’s not really your money. Consider having a conversation with your parents about donations. Remind your parents they aren’t getting the money on your meal card back no matter what, but respect that it’s their money and their ultimate decision.
Service-trippers: Don’t take donations for granted. Be more genuine and less automatic in your expression of gratitude. When someone says “no,” don’t try to argue that “it’s not that much money.” Given the Dining Hall prices, it is.
It’s not that I don’t care about people less fortunate than us—I do. I am not fundamentally opposed to charities in the dining halls; they are not inherently unethical. They just need reform, badly. The way these service trips present themselves in the dining halls doesn’t inspire any confidence in the rest of the student body.
If you’re asking for money and you can’t be bothered to: 1) Make an effective presentation, 2) Take “no” for an answer, 3) Say “thank you,” why should I be bothered to donate? How can you expect anyone to think you’re putting your heart into charity if all you have to say is, “Would you like to donate to our service trip?”