There’s something a little melancholy, for me, in walking along an abandoned railroad. I feel it whenever I explore the remains of our national past, but old rights of way bring it out most strongly. Partly this is because I was always a little bit of a railfan, and partly it is the significance of these narrow strips of landscape, empty and overgrown where once great steam engines chugged along hauling the commerce of a young country. A century and a half ago the great men of the day gathered in smoke-filled rooms and clinked their glasses in celebration of the last rail layed and the last spike driven, and yet now it is all just memory.
When I was a kid we went out at certain times of the year and knocked on people’s doors and sold stuff. Mostly it was wrapping paper and greeting cards, or perhaps Girl Scout Cookies if you were a girl. There were pretty much just two kinds of children’s organizations that did this back then: Scouts of either gender, and Little League teams. It was a way to augment the amounts that parents paid, with the rationale that as a purchaser you were supporting good things being done in the community by these organizations (such as keeping a bunch of kids occupied on weekends).
When something works, it gets adopted. Over the years more and more organizations started pushing their littlest members out onto the sidewalks of America. Few people resent the GSA for peddling cookies, but they are the original masters of door-to-door heartstring tugging. What about everyone else? This year my three daughters were asked to sell pies, magazines, wrapping paper and greeting cards, nuts and chocolates, cookies, and fruit door-to-door. The basketball and soccer teams wanted in. The chorus wanted in. The PTA wanted in. The schools themselves wanted in. Wait… what’s that? Aren’t our schools supported by property taxes, which in this area are damned high, along with state and Federal contributions? Why yes, they are, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want more! Everybody wants more money and a bigger budget, so the schools now send kids out selling, and the organizations inside the schools send them out, and the school even holds a yearly Christmas Store where my kids can use dollars that they extracted from me by crying piteously to buy (for me!) little plastic Chinese-made products of zero utility or value.
It’s getting ridiculous, don’t you think? My daughters are kids, not little Tin Men in the grass-roots marketing division of China Inc. I don’t mind a little exposure to this sort of thing. I do think it teaches some important lessons about interacting with people, doing business, and the essentials of the customer relationship. But enough is enough, folks. If my kid belongs to an organization and they need the $25 or $30 in profit share that they will receive for the parcel of cheap goods she sells to her neighbors, then I will happily write a check. If what they want to do costs more than I am currently paying, then tell me that, and I will raise my contribution. But don’t assume that our whole family will hit the street to sell junk so you can pad out the budget. It ain’t happening anymore. I don’t want the stuff they’re selling, and I am pretty damn sure none of my neighbors want the stuff they’re selling. With money tight and the economy missing on a few cylinders, now is a good time to question the wisdom of this approach to fundraising.