Lessons from the Holiday Food Drive

This past weekend I spent much of Saturday with my son & friends collecting food for the Christmas is for Children food baskets.  We stood in front of Kroger with our table, signs and flyers and let shoppers know our purpose in the hopes they may drop off some items on the way out. I am still amazed by their generosity.

I also was fascinated by our real-life research on how to engage others and the realities of getting the attention of busy people ~ even for a great cause.

We soon discovered these truths outside the local Kroger:

  • My Mom was right ~ don’t judge a book by its cover.  The older man in a hurry, the high school girl who seemed too young or the man with a walker who surely couldn’t carry extra groceries all donated multiple bags.  We were surprised time and time again.  Don’t assume because of someone’s demeanor or appearance that they will make certain decisions.  Expect the best and you may be surprised.
  • Don’t ask for a commitment before they understand – One of the boys started off by asking, “Would you like to donate to Christmas is for Children?” as soon as they walked up.  In every case, they said no – even if they seemed interested in knowing more.  He decided to change his approach and just told them what we were doing in case they wanted to contribute some extra food items.  This was much more successful and a great reminder that decisions require some information first – ‘help me get there, but don’t force commitments too fast’.
  • If they don’t make eye contact, don’t give them a flyer – This became our short-hand for ‘if they make an extra effort to go in the other door and don’t look at you – they just aren’t interested’.  We saved those flyers and our focus for the shoppers who signaled some openness to us & our cause. We see this in our work or sales but sometimes miss those subtle cues that say ‘not right now’.  Spend your energy where you can have an impact.
  • It takes enthusiasm to get people on board.  Early on the boys were uncomfortable and a little shy about telling the incoming customers about the food drive. When they were apologetic or talked low, the shopper interest was even lower.  But, it was amazing the difference when they showed confidence and enthusiasm.  They came to realize that if they weren’t showing excitement & belief in their work, there was no way others would be interested either.
  • It’s not about you. The truth is sometimes people aren’t interested and it has nothing to do with you.  They are involved in another charity, they just don’t have the money to help or they are late to pick up their kids.  Whatever the reason – sometimes the answer is ‘no’.  The boys learned not to take it personally or feel badly – and focus on what was in their  control.
  • People love to be thanked.  Of course, you say.  But, when shoppers dropped off their bags – whether it was 2 cans of green beans or 5 bags filled with peanut butter, we cheered and thanked them so much for helping to make food baskets happen this Christmas.  They glowed knowing that while out running errands they made a  difference.  A genuine thank you and acknowledgement for work well done is magic and often forgotten in our busy worlds.

So, while spending a wonderful day with high school freshmen and their Moms, I was reminded that human nature is pretty much the same whether you are asking for canned goods or the commitment to change at work.  And, the realization that sometimes when you think your words were ignored or you missed your chance, bags of peanut butter later arrive on your table with a smile and “We’re glad to help out.”