Pulse: Chatter: The Company Giving Local Panhandlers a Run for Our Money

Do you have a minute for …

“I used to cross the street if I saw someone shady,” says lady-about-town and outgoing Friends of Rittenhouse Square president Wendy Rosen. “Now I cross when I see those people with clipboards."

You’ve probably seen — and avoided — those people with clipboards, too, the fresh-faced sidewalk fund-raisers scattered about Center City street corners, chirping, “Have a minute for Doctors Without Borders?” Sometimes they want your minutes for the Red Cross; sometimes, it’s for the children, but the subtext is always the same. (Not a minute for charity? Jerk.) So is the goal: your money. And they seem to be multiplying.

They are, affirms Christopher Peterson. He’s the U.S. fund-raising director for Public Outreach, a Seattle-based firm that provides “donor interaction” for nonprofits wanting to outsource face-to-face fund-raising. In 2009, Public Outreach planted an office in Philly, looking to gather long-term donors for its clients. Now, at a starting wage of $10 an hour, 20 Philly Outreachers man city streets, begging donations for the American Red Cross, Save the Children, the Humane Society and Doctors Without Borders. (Greenpeace, another heavy sidewalk presence, uses its own people.) If that sounds like a terrible job, consider the perks: The pay increases every few weeks workers stay, up to $14 an hour; at four months, they get health benefits and paid vacation — paid for by contract fees with the nonprofits. There’s no commission, Peterson adds: “That can lead to being pushy, and we don’t think you get quality donors by being pushy.”

But does one get donors amid the din of voices asking for money in a town where, according to one Outreacher, passers-by verbally abuse, flip off, even spit on fund-raisers? Peterson says yes: The company has raked in an estimated $5 million in donations, and while he won’t pinpoint what percentage came from Philly, the success rate is high enough that he plans to stay. So maybe we’re not all jerks. (Or maybe we don’t all cross the street in time.)