The church that I belong to has decided to no longer hold the annual door-to-door collections for Christian Aid Week, and instead to raise money by other means. Whilst I am in no doubt that this is the right decision for the right reasons, still I am both elated and saddened at the same time.
I have to be honest and say that it is not something I have ever found easy. Although there is no actual asking for money involved (one day you put the distinctive red envelopes through a multitude of doors, a few days later you knock on the doors and ask for your envelope back) too many people made it clear that I was intruding on their evening or their property or their life, and in general I am not an intrusive kind of guy.
But quite apart from the fact that I passionately believe in the cause of helping the world’s poorest communities, as I have delivered over the past twelve years or so there have been some notable highlights, top of the list being the elderly lady who said “I’ve been waiting for you, you didn’t come to collect last year” and handed over two envelopes of money, the current year’s and one faded with lying in the sun for a year inside her door, waiting to be collected. I can’t begin to express how touched I was by that, which is why I took the photograph above. Things like that make you feel that you are doing a service not just to the poor but to your community by helping them to help others. It also reminded me that these collections have been part of the nation’s fabric for a long time, long enough for some people to expect the visit and also to expect that if they missed one, we would be back next year.
There have been other moments that stick in my memory – the lady whose children got her out of the bath to hand over the cash, the man who looked at me suspiciously and asked “where does the money go? Does it go to druggies in this country?” and when I assured him it didn’t he handed over ten pounds. Also the assorted envelope-holding hands appearing over fences, through gaps in curtains, under gates – people’s inventiveness has amused me no end.
Best of all has been the yearly joy of collecting with my daughter. The first year she came she was only four months old and I carried her round, which created a talking point on the doorsteps. Over the years she has not just got used to our annual pilgrimage but become a motivating factor, asking each year “When are we going out delivering envelopes?” and deciding which doors she goes to and which I go to, or whether we go together. How to push an empty envelope through a letter box with thick draught-excluding brushes on the inside and a lethally spring-loaded flap on the outside is a challenge we discussed many times, and the sound of dogs on the inside added an element of jeopardy that sometimes was too much and caused her to turn and yell “Dad!” The first year she tried knocking on doors she was so timid in her knock that I had to do each one after her, but she got bolder as the years passed.
Being young she also found it harder to hide her indignation at the ways people tried to avoid giving to something she thought was so obviously right. There were the people who refused to acknowledge our presence even though we could clearly see them, the people who claimed not to have had an envelope (which we knew we had delivered), that they had lost it (though we could see it) or (a very popular one from men) that they didn’t know anything about this, their wife deals with “stuff like that”. And there were the people who returned the envelope clearly empty, or with suspicious-feeling objects inside that turned out to be buttons or similar small and worthless objects.
Unfortunately my impression is that over time it has become harder to get people to answer doors and the returns from doing it have fallen. It is this growing lack of willingness to give on the doorstep that has ultimately caused us to rethink our fund-raising. The worst part of it is, I can understand. Many times on my own doorstep I’ve said no thanks and shut the door, often to people representing charities. And although in my time collecting I never asked anyone for money or to sign up for anything, and I have never tried to recite a five-minute script about why the listener should care, I realise that we were terminally tarred with the same brush as all the other salesmen. That was how we looked when we called round.
So we are scheduling in other fund-raising activities, and if they turn out to be the wrong ones we might try something different the year after. We have to work on the assumption that fundamentally people care, they just don’t want us to intrude on their home life to tell them about it. Meanwhile, my daughter will miss one final joy of every Christian Aid Week: at the end of collecting in all the envelopes, we would return to our house where she would knock and with a straight face say “Hello, I’ve come to collect your Christian Aid envelope”. She would make sure she got it too, and with money inside.