You Can't Escape the Canvasser's Pitch

'Got a minute?' The young bleeding-heart carnivores who hunt you down on your lunch hour

And, of course, there are financial incentives. Canvassers are paid a base rate of $10 an hour, as well as bonuses when they get more than two sign-ups: $50 for the day's third sign-up, $70 for the fourth, and $180 for the fifth.

"Ultimately, they don't stop for the charity," says Sarina Martin, who is a top signer in the group. "They stop for you."

Dialogue Direct and other charities admit that not everyone is cut out for this line of work. It involves long hours, the personality to approach random people, and dealing with rejection and even cruelty. Canvassers get frustrated. Garth, the self-proclaimed asshole, was fired for his attitude just a few weeks after he was first encountered on the street by the Voice.

Let’s talk: The Fridge (right) leads an assault.
Andy Kropa
Let’s talk: The Fridge (right) leads an assault.
Got a minute?
Andy Kropa
Got a minute?

"I guess I'm not a team player," he says.

Escueta, who is 27, knows just how tough things can get. One time, she was canvassing for CARE on the streets of New York. One man—"I guess he thought I was too pushy"—threatened to cancel his sponsorship of a child through another organization. It was the end of the day; Escueta broke down. She apologized, begging him not to cancel his sponsorship because of something she did: "And I just said to him, 'Go in peace.' " Tears ran down her face.

A few hours later, she says, the man came back to find her. He gave money for CARE. Proof, she says, "that miracles can happen on the street."

It's almost 6 p.m., and Siveski is reaching the point of desperation. For practically the first time in his career as a dialoguer, he has had only one sign-up that day. On another corner, the Fridge is trying to woo sponsors with his standard line, but the charm of his British accent appears to be lost on the foreign tourists walking the streets. Sarina, wearing hip-hugging jeans and big hoop earrings, is batting her eyes at a man nearby. The man is explaining that the children she wants him to sponsor seem too anonymous. Kind of like "Save the Whales," he says. Sarina eggs him on: "You know you've thought about sponsoring a child." But the man resists, saying he's already supporting two children—his own.

Siveski, meanwhile, is chasing after a medical student named Stacy: "Stacy! Stacy! Stacy! Come back, Stacy!"

He trails her for a half-block. The African- American woman in a low-cut dress finally spins around. "I can't. I have medical loans," she says.

But Siveski has a counter-argument: "I'm a college student. I just took out $30,000 in student loans last week."

Stacy: "I have more than $200,000. I'm sorry."

Siveski keeps parrying: "I was born in the former Yugoslavia. I know what a third-world country is. If I can do it, and I'm just a college student . . . "

Stacy: "OK, well, you're a better person than I am. I'm proud of you."

"No, you're not," Siveski says, and quickly shifts strategy. "We drink beer and go shopping while these kids don't have food and water. In 20 years, when you look back on your life, what are you going to say that you spent your money and time on? Do you remember the last purchase you made?"

Stacy holds up the H&M bag in her hand.

Siveski: "Well, I'm sure you can't remember the others."

Stacy: "Do you have a website?"

It's a question that Siveski hates, and he almost loses his ever-present cool. "Look," he says, "there's nothing on the website that I can't tell you right here! Only three percent of our 350,000 donors came from the website!"

Stacy: "Well, maybe I'll be in that three percent."

As she starts to run away again, he follows, and she shouts: "Please, there has to be someone else!"

Siveski: "Stacy! Stacy! Stacy! Do you have food and water to drink? I ask you, do you know what it is like to feel thirst and not have water?"

Stacy: "I don't have any money. My mom pays for my food."

Siveski: "Then ask your mom!"

Stacy: "I feel badly . . . I'm sorry."

He touches her arm lightly. She scoots away and runs down the street, calling back over her shoulder: "I feel so guilty!"

Afterwards, Siveski sighs in disbelief. "And she's a doctor!" he exclaims.

"Are we really that annoying that if you stop for 30 seconds, we're going to ruin your day? What's the big deal?" he asks. "Ninety percent of people say they don't have time because they have to go to work. They are so self-centered. They feel if they take 30 seconds, the whole world will come crashing down."

But there isn't really time to dwell on his frustrations. Within seconds, Siveski is eyeing the sidewalk again. It's full of potential signers in summer dresses, and he's already quickening his step.

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