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Pedestrian, Can You Spare a Dime?

Sidewalk solicitors share the secrets of their trade.


Once summer hits, they’re unavoidable, and they’re always in pairs: those fresh-faced kids asking, “Do you have a moment for the children?” Or for the environment? Or the Democrats? The causes change, but the approach is always the same—because all those canvassers work for professional fund-raising companies that for 25 years have been honing their technique. Each summer, hundreds of college kids respond to Craigslist postings and classified ads, determined to save the world. Adam Winer spoke to some of them.

Sixth Ave. and 9th St.
Wants a Moment For: Barack Obama
What’s the average contribution? About $20, but if you’re good at making people feel comfortable, you can get a lot of money. I’ve seen people say, “Ma’am, I need you to write me a check for $500.” And they get it.
Is the job what you’d expected? Yeah, it’s for a good cause, and I really believe in it. But if I saw me out on the street, I’d think I was annoying, too.
Do you target anyone specifically? No, but you can usually see Republicans coming.
How? They look grouchy.

Seventh Ave. S. and Christopher St.
Wants a Moment For: Environment America
Why always in pairs? One person can’t get traffic going both ways. Also, one person stands on one side of the sidewalk and I’m standing on the other side and we funnel traffic to each other.
How does this rank as a summer job? Honestly, this wasn’t my first choice. I wanted to be a camp counselor.
Why this corner? They have about 100 sites and rotate you around. They also look at Starbucks locations. Where there’s a Starbucks, there’s a bathroom.

Sixth Ave. and 4th St.
Wants a Moment For: The ACLU
How many people ignore you each day? Thousands and thousands. About 30 people stop, and one in five will give.
Do you suggest a donation amount? We try for $148 per month, because that’s $1,776 per year. It’s kitschy, but some people actually give it. The average is around $30 per month.
How did you get into this? I come from a long line of activists. My parents met canvassing.
Would you donate to you? I won’t canvass for a group that I won’t give money to.

Lexington Ave. and 23rd St.
Wants a Moment For: Children International
How did you get involved in this? I’m becoming a missionary, and I found this charity through Craigslist.
What ways do people avoid you? They’ll wave you off. They’ll act like they’re on the phone. Some people will push you out of the way.
You’ve been pushed? A friend of mine was really close to this woman’s face, and she slapped him. He just laughed it off. It’s part of the job.
Would you give to you? Heck, yeah. I sponsor two children.

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