Monday, 10 March 2008

Chronicle of an Ethnic Minority Volunteer

Regular readers of this blog will remember my previous entry on volunteering, where I referenced a news item that claimed the level of volunteering was significantly lower in migrant suburbs, especially where the migrants were from non-English-speaking countries.

Well, I'm glad to report that I've tried to make a dent in that statistic. I volunteered to take part in a doorknock appeal on behalf of the Australian Red Cross. They contacted me because they had my details as a blood donor. I agreed to take part in the campaign which was to take place in the month of March 2008.

Promptly before the beginning of March, an envelope arrived at my house. It contained the following:

1. A paper identity badge on which I had to print my name and sign. I had to wear this whenever I was out collecting.
2. A receipt book with pre-printed receipts in denominations of $0.50, $1.00, $2.00 and $5.00, also some blank receipts in case of odd denominations.
3. Detailed instructions on the cover of the receipt book (including "If there's a dog on the premises that you're not sure about, do not enter", "Do not enter the house even if invited. Stand politely on the front doorstep", etc.)
4. Some envelopes marked "Sorry I missed you" and appealing to the recipient to mail their donation to the Red Cross, should no one be at home when I called
5. A plastic bag to hold the lot

I was allotted house numbers 1 to 17 on my street, with instructions not to be overzealous and go beyond this territory, as those houses may have been allotted to someone else.

On Monday the 3rd of March, I took the precaution of putting my own flyer in every mailbox in my allotted range, informing each resident that I would be paying them a visit the coming weekend (Sat 8th March or Sun 9th March). I also gave them the option to "opt out" if they didn't want me to call on them, by either leaving me a voicemail, e-mail or by return of flyer to my mailbox. To my pleasant surprise, no one had opted out by the time the weekend rolled around.

On Saturday morning, I set out with my Red Cross badge prominently displayed as instructed. It was a bit late in the morning, so many people were away from home. But everyone who was home was pleasant and made a donation. I managed to collect from 9 houses that morning. On Saturday afternoon, I visited the houses I had missed in the morning. I managed to find 4 more people at home, and all of them without exception made a donation. On Sunday afternoon, I tried the last couple of houses again but no one was home. I left them the "Sorry I missed you" envelopes and returned home. Out of 17 houses, I had visited 15. That left my own house and a house whose number didn't seem to exist on the street.

I had spent less than an hour on Saturday morning, less than half an hour on Saturday afternoon and less than 10 minutes on Sunday afternoon. Total time spent collecting: less than 2 hours.

Total collection: $88.50. The smallest amount donated was $2.00 and the largest was $20.00. I topped up the amount to $100.00 with my own contribution and sent off the proceeds to the Red Cross.

I learnt a few diverse things on this exercise:

1. I think giving people advance notice of your visit helps. At least 3 people had the money ready, and all of them seemed unsurprised to see me, and they were all uniformly pleasant.
2. I met many people I had never even seen before, even though I had lived at my current address for over 4 years!
3. The first person I met on my rounds was a child, who donated $3.50, perhaps from her own pocket money. I made two mistakes with the receipt I gave her. I should have torn off three of the pre-printed receipts ($2.00, $1.00 and $0.50). I mistakenly thought I should write out a special receipt on a blank receipt slip because it was an odd figure. There I made my second mistake. I wrote on the topmost slip in the booklet instead of the bottommost. So when I tore off the receipt, the rest of the page came away. I cursed myself for my stupidity.

Anyway, I realised that volunteering doesn't hurt. Nobody bites you (not even their dogs).

So ethnic migrants don't volunteer, eh? Take that!

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