Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'm collecting ...

Collecting in Bullwood
Originally uploaded by goforchris.
This is Christian Aid week. All over the country church people are slogging round allocated districts delivering and then collecting red envelopes in which - they hope - householders will have had time to put sensible money (as opposed to all the coppers they want rid of) and fill in the Gift Aid declaration. That's the theory.

In practice, the experience is more haphazard. Mrs Heathbank and I were covering the area known as the Bullwood, the main road south of Dunoon. I suspect we get these odd places because the Episcopal church is not so readily associated with a parish, but whatever the reason this is our patch. Only this year we doubled "our" bit of road because of a shortage of able-bodied Piskies willing to take it on. And so it was that on Sunday we covered about 3 miles of road and drives and hillsides as we delivered the envelopes, and this evening we again covered the same 3 miles collecting them. As you will see from the photo, it involved some ingenuity and energy to retrieve some of the envelopes.

I actually hate doing this. Most of all, I hate the dogs. I think there are more dog-owning households down the Bullwood than anywhere else in Dunoon. I was on my second house when the door opened to reveal a large German Shepherd on the step above me, so that its face seemed alarmingly close to my own. It was accompanied by a totally inadequate small girl with golden hair. I found myself gibbering at her. Not a good start. After that, Mrs H got all the houses where I remembered that there were beasts, as well as the ones where there was barking.

Another hazard is the people you meet. One woman yelled (above the barking of two ferocious hounds) that she gave money to her own religion. Reasoning that the money goes to help poor people and is merely collected by Christians didn't work. No luck there. Then there was the old boy who took an age to come down his hall, past washing on a clothes horse, then laboriously unlocked the door. I switched on my brightest smile. "No," he said, lugubriously, and locked up again. And there is the Grumpy Woman in the Dolls House, who waved a minatory finger at us on Sunday, so that we didn't even try to leave an envelope. We've tangled with her before and it wasn't pretty.

You do see some places you never knew existed, though. Some of the houses lurk up huge long driveways, and others have bungalows sprouting in their enormous gardens. Some people have built expensive-looking conservatories and then filled them with junk; others houses have strange smells. I was reminded yet again of Larkin, talking about "the smells of different dinners" - by this time it was well past my dinnertime, but I was glad I wasn't dining at some of the houses we visited.

But the hardest thing of all is remaining polite and cheerful. Mrs H is much better at it than I am. I have an insatiable urge to say "sod off, then" when rejected, or told that I'm doing a grand job but "we have our own charities, thank you." And when people on "my" patch tell me that they've given their contribution to their own church, I have to fight down a snarl. Especially if they've used the envelope I left them.

I have, however, to record that some people are delightful, with their envelopes filled and waiting for us, or rushing off apologetically to find money to put in it as we wait. And most deserving of mention is the former pupil who didn't hear us at her door as she was putting her children to bed when we called. She appeared in her car just as we were setting off back down the road, waving the envelope out of the window. She was going to drop it off at my house if she hadn't caught us. To her, and to all the others who kept the smile on my face - thank you. Till next time ...


  1. At least you didn't get bitten by the dog. I can tell stories about that under similar circumstances...

    I wonder, though, whether religion has a serious branding problem when trying to raise money for the needy. It's something I've never understood about Christian Aid. If the main aim is to raise money for the poor then the logical branding would let people know what the purpose of the collect was, rather than who was collecting it.

    We associate bad times when the people coming to make us part with our money are also the name of the brand: bailiffs, the tax man...

    The things for which we are more than happy to part with our cash, regardless of how futile, selfish or 'luxury' they are, have carefully thought out names that tell you what the thing is, rather than who sold it. So we talk about the iPod and the Mac, not the Apple.

    The second thing I've noticed with charities is that they use two more techniques. The first is that, using Gift Aid, this will mean you lose nothing but we gain (and better still, the tax man loses out). It's the best of three worlds. The second, is to use imagery and words that appeal to our emotions. Where does Christian Aid money go? We don't know. But Pudsey money goes mostly to kids in the UK (and the mascot, through it's historical significance, look, colour, shape reminds us of this passively). Greenpeace money goes to those heroic warriors out in the Japanese oceans.

    Christian Aid makes it sound like the Aid is for the Christians, regardless of how needy or Barber-clad they might be. It's easy for Christian Aid to get the money (volunteers and envelopes) but it's not making it easy for people to part with cash (no gift aid, no win-win). Worse still, I don't know where the money goes form the tagline (what is the tagline?) and there's nothing to make me connect with the issues the charity is for.

    All these things that I've conveyed in this long discussion here need to be communicated in a logo and name, and maybe a tagline. Not easy, and not the job of those delivering envelopes...

    Just my not-very-well-thought-out tuppence worth.

  2. I recalled your dog story. It reinforced my determination to avoid the creatures.

    I think you're right about the branding. But it's a really well-known brand among a certain stratum of people. Would it be better to brand each campaign specifically? Like "08 for Burma"? (Hey - I like that. Nice punning feel)

  3. Chris, I smiled from ear to ear at your dilemma...although I realize it is no "laughable matter". Seriously, tis quite the opposite!

    Although Ewan claims his opinions were off the "top of his head", so to speak, his points are very well taken!

    As the owner of TWO Scottish Terier(ists), I can certainly understand your fear of meeting up with wild curs. My Angus would sound as though he would chew a stranger up and spit them out, but truth be told, he adores humans, as he sometimes thinks he IS one! haha

    One of my biggest problems with the church (okay, I am speaking as an American here, so I will state that outright so as not to "rock" any boats)is that she fails to follow the commands Jesus issued....take care of the widows and the orphans. I guess in modern days we might as well add homeless and broken in spirit, as well....Here in America, we tend to look to the government to deal with the "unlovely" or "unlovable". The church has become so delicate (?) she no longer wants to roll up her sleeves and get down and dirty. If she did all she was commanded, would things be (much) better?

    I love Ewan's fourth paragraph...we do carefully save our money for all of those little pleasantries that neither make life more wonderful, nor bearable! We still must face the same challenges whether we can listen to tunes in our iPods or not! (or take photos, as is my own case!!!)

    We are promised an abundant life, and sometimes I wonder if we truly were "cheerful givers", if we might find ourselves unable to outgive God. Here in America, we are oftimes told the story of a man named LaTourneau who invented the heavy "Catapillar" equipment such as bulldozers and earthmoving devices. He believed and trusted God, explicitly, and he gave away as much as he could...and God kept replenishing!

    And there you have my 2 cents from across the Atlantic!!!!

  4. Anonymous10:14 PM

    I remember well, collecting from big posh mansions in Pollokshields as a curate. Out of over 100 envelopes, my "stash" amounted to £136.23. Some envelopes, given back to me with a smile, were simply empty. Nobody was rude, just mean. These were detached 6 bedroomed houses!

    A C of Scotland person, we counted our "stashes" together, who was collecting in McCulloch Street, a well known dwelling place of the "poor people" came in with over £500.

    It was my first experience of poverty sharing!

    However, I think we should employ Ewan, for free of course, for next year's campaign. There was a simple CD/DVD brought out this year again. The cost of doing this is so small, that we could easily pop the DVD in with the envelopes?