Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Difference an Approach Makes

UC Davis is doing its annual fund-raising drive. Current students call alumni and do their best to ask for money.

I sympathize immensely with this type of work. In 2008, I volunteered to coordinate my county's signature gathering for a ballot initiative. Standing outside supermarkets, calling potential supporters, working with volunteers - it was all daunting and, at some points, quite intimidating. And I was only asking for signatures, not money!

This year, I ended up being called twice and the approach each student took made all the difference.

The first was nervous and gruff. I think he was a little unsure of himself and came across as such. He wasn't really interested in the sell and got straight to the ask. To be honest, I'm perfectly fine with going straight for the ask. These students are working from the assumption that we get what UC Davis does, we know about the annual fund-raiser (excepting a first year alumnus), and as such we know where our money is going. We don't really need a pitch.

But I like to know that the people doing the fund-raising care a little bit. I'm not talking it's their whole life care, just enough caring to engage during the conversation.

I kindly declined donating to the student and barely received a "bye" before he hung up.

Flash forward to this evening when another student called. She explained who she was and then just started to ask me about my experience at UC Davis, weaving in how the campus has changed, how money is tight, how the school has been expanding new programs and encouraging new research. Through our discussion, I learned about her and her struggles. I learned the school was low on donations. I learned a lot about what has been happening at my alma mater and about upcoming events.

I mean, I knew from the get go that the ask was coming. But it was this leisurely, comfortable path to get there.

And when she finally got to the ask - she went big, as all good little fund-raisers know to do. Other circumstances forced me to decline. Before I could even offer a lower donation, she jumped in with, "I totally understand. Times are tough. What about donating this amount? We can do three monthly payments of x, so you don't have to worry about a lump sum." I agreed to donate at the amount she suggested but in total (not the monthly payments).

Caring about people, even while being honest about your intent (in this case, raising money) is possible. I think there are lessons animal rescuers could learn from these two UC Davis students. Lessons about kindness and listening, about not being overly judgmental and understanding that a "perfect" home for a dog may be one where folks don't have a lot of money or don't have a fence or feed their current dogs Ol Roy. There are lessons about compromise and understanding, about looking at a person and seeing, really seeing, the hope and love and respect they have for an adoptable animal, no matter that they don't fit the "ideal home" model. I sometimes feel like animal rescuers are more like the first caller - quick to give up, quick to judge, quick to decide that if the adopter isn't going to pay x and do a-m, then well, hang up now.

There are a lot of acceptable homes out there. There are good homes. Great homes. Supremo homes. They are made up of fallible humans, all of them. Some are more responsible, all are capable of making mistakes.

In the end, for me, it comes down to this: Do I want a dog to enter the home of an acceptable family or do I want the dog dead? I know what I want. I can hazard a guess at what the dog wants (what do all living organisms strive for?) Why is it so fantastically hard for some animal rescue agencies to figure this out?

So, thanks UC Davis student #2. You made an effort to care. You made a commitment to listen. You shared and were patient. And, well, you got UC Davis some of my money. (Your supervisor says you get an incentive to boot, so you're welcome for that!)


Pibble said...

Hear, hear! I see this far too often in our own shelter. Counselors look for absolute perfection and miss great opportunities. Yes, we don't want to adopt cats out to someone we know will declaw, and we don't want to adopt dogs out to someone who wants to tether for hours on end. That's a given.

We can't expect our adopters to provide perfect homes. Let's get over it and give the poor animals a chance at life outside of a shelter! Then, we can save MORE animals.

As long as the animal has a place to live, love, regular vet visits - do they need a throne to perch upon? (Maybe in my house, but that's because I've spoiled the little rats.)

Anonymous said...

Good post. My college always uses the second approach -- and largely, I look forward to the phone call every year hearing from a student there about how things have changed, what they're studying, and how the industry has changed since I was in school. It is amazing what caring about people will do.

Jennie said...

I used to work for the division of American that did the alumni fundraiser phone calls, and it can be a little hair-raising. It's one of the few jobs on campus that isn't a workstudy job, and thus you get a lot of students who aren't the best fit working. A lot of them hate to be there, and don't really understand how the process works. Yet if you just reach out a little, most people on the other end are happy to establish a rapport of some kind, even if you're scared or nervous.

As a foster mom, I'm responsible for doing all the screenings on my foster dogs. Right now I have two Cane Corso puppies who are in very high demand. I've had almost 50 emails about them, in a span of about five days. For me, it can be tricky to strike a balance between being overbearing and investigative, because I don't want these dogs coming back to us at 110lbs of uncontrollable mastiff. The adopter we picked for one was initially discounted because her cat had been declawed in all four paws(!), but after I got over my initial distaste and questioned her more about it, I found out their vet had pressured her into the surgery, hadn't given her all the facts on how terrible it is, and had then done all four paws instead of the two she agreed to. And that she would never, ever do it again. At the dog meet I was so impressed with them I cancelled my other meetings on the spot. They don't live in the nicest section of town, but they will be a great home for the dog - not a "perfect" one, but a great one.