Saturday, July 23, 2011

Street fundraising is like baseball: my first week in the majors

F*ck it. It's 4:13 a.m., but this post is going up. Need to put this into words. Action. You know.

Street fundraising is like baseball. You start off in the minors (training) to hone your approach. Your first at-bat in the majors is scary and shaky. The opposing pitcher (stranger on the street) doesn't tip their hand; you don't know if you're getting a curveball or slider or spitter (their objections to the charity). You might get lucky and hit a line drive to let field, but just as often as it skips down the line for a double, an outfielder might be right there to catch it. There are many strikeouts. There are very few walks. There are no balks.

Eventually, though, with enough at-bats, you learn what to expect. You adjust your swing to make it more powerful, natural. Your batting average climbs from below the Mendoza line to near .300. It's not great -- you're still making outs 70% of the time -- but it's damn good in comparison to your teammates. Your team lifts you up; sometimes, when you hit a double, someone else is there to drive you home. When you're not making contact and they are, you're heartened that your boys are getting it done. Unless you're jealous of the signing bonus they're going to get.

Baseball's all about slumps and hitting streaks. Fundraising is the same. On Thursday, I was stationed in Soho, in 96 degree weather, and had a tremendous 0-fer. I couldn't stop anyone; scratch that -- I was too scared to even look pretty Caucasian women in the eyes. Three people stopped for me -- an Asian lady, a balding guy, someone else I don't remember -- but I couldn't finish the deal, even though they all left fat, hanging pitches in the strike zone. What's worse, my fellow fundraisers were hitting home runs everywhere, spraying hits to every corner in the park, and their success was so eye-opening that I doubted whether I deserved to be in the majors. At the end of the day, at 8 p.m., I took a taxi back, defeated, having signed nobody up.

I came into Friday feeling good. My skipper (Matt) had told me I needed better body language, strong eye contact, and a less-needy tone; I was ready for the challenge. Then, in the batter's box (our office), I fell into a mental slump. Despite being a boys versus girls challenge day, and despite having a solid, veteran team (one of our guys has signed up 800+ lifetime), I started stewing in my own spite. Worst of all, nobody at the office talked to me.

It was a sweltering day. On TV, there was a health advisory warning for the sun. And, prolonging the slump, I couldn't stop a single person before 1 p.m. At 2:15 p.m., I finally managed to stop one person. He was a business man. I could tell on his face he wanted to sign up. But I literally stumbled so badly through my pitch that I lost a sure thing. Matt (him of 800+ mandates) told me I wasn't being loud enough. Expressive enough. That I didn't know my facts. The new guy on our team was double-stopping people (which makes me mad), so I walked across the street. But when I got there, I gave up. I sat down and stared at the ground for 15 minutes, thinking about how I would tell everyone I was quitting after tomorrow. I wanted to save myself the embarrassment of getting fired. At that moment, I hated people. I hated the world. I took out a piece of paper and wrote this:

"2:24 sitting, hiding after new guy / matt said I suck, basically. want to quit. can't wait to go. Need to man up afterwards and either pump up or tender resig. ego bruised. heat. feeling worthless. gone emmon now."

At 2:30, we took our lunch break. Matt told me, "If you're going to sit there, there's no point in being here. You can just go home." At the pizzeria, while everyone else was talking, I fell asleep with my head in my hands.

Big Lebowski slump.

3:30 p.m.: I'm on the streets, not at all ready to try again. People don't stop. I see this guy, carrying two heavy fans, walk up the sidewalk. I almost don't stop him. What's the point? He's sweating everywhere. I say, "Hi, a minute of your time?" The line never works. He puts the fans down and says, "Give me what you got." I go through my pitch -- poverty, children, volunteer mothers -- and after 2 minutes, he says, "Let's do it." I give him the sheet, he fills it out, and we're done. I have one. It's unbelievable how easy it was. I asked him what he did for a living. He said, "Oh, I'm a writer for TV. Have you heard of a show called How I Met Your Mother?" I tell him, "Yea, I think I've heard of it." Turns out he started out writing for Full House. That he lives in LA, but has a summer apartment here. What. A. Baller.

I couldn't help but smile when I handed in the form. From then, I was just happy. It became infectious: everyone around me smiled. I stopped 4 people in half an hour. (Which is really, really good.) I embraced the world, and it held me in its soft, cuddly arms. At 6:20 p.m., 5 minutes before closing time, I asked this tall, made-up woman if she had a minute. She kept walking, until I said, "Please." After she heard my pitch, her first question was, "Where's the Trader Joes here?" A minute later, I was walking with her to Trader Joes, filling out her birth date and credit card information. Four blocks later, I had my second sign up. It was the team-high for the day.

My two mandates wanted to sign up. They were good people. Kind people. People that have saved me from getting fired for at least 3 more days. People who ended my slump. Tomorrow's another day, but for now, I'm good. It's so hard to control your emotions with this job!

One last note, about office shunning. My leader, unsolicited, told me that when he arrived, everyone shunned him. But now that he'd been here for 4 months, he realized it had to be this way: when we work for a company that hires 30 people and fires 28 of them after the first 2 weeks, it's not smart to invest in people who disappear almost immediately. It's only when you're a veteran that you're invited into the circle. It's analogous to the "bitch shield" syndrome of beautiful women: you can't invest in everyone who wants to be your friend. You have to be selective.

1 comment:

  1. congrats on the signings peter!

    I am intrigued by your 'bitch shield' analogy - is this equivalent to the Jersey Shore Pauly D version of a grenade?

    In regards to 'office shunning' - I can imagine that is a difficult situation to deal with - but hang in there because soon enough when you leave NY you might never see them again in your life and you'll have the time to talk to people like your family who actually do matter.