I was raking leaves one recent Saturday afternoon when I saw three young girls walking down my street. They were trailed protectively, hen-like, by a white minivan. The girls were carrying clipboards. One by one, they knocked on the doors of my neighbors, progressing down the opposite side of the street before turning at the end of the block and working their way back toward my house.
It wouldn’t have taken a professional fundraiser to figure out what was up. The girls were raising money. In this case it was for marching band uniforms. They approached me shyly and, apologizing for taking my time, explained that it would be great if I could donate a few dollars toward the cause.
“But it’s up to you. You don’t have to,” said one of the girls.
I told the girls I’d be happy to contribute, and I did. After sounding a chorus of thank yous, they went on their way. The woman driving the minivan gave me a friendly wave.
I might represent a minority opinion, but I was heartened by those girls and their diligent walk down my street. They offered an all-too-rare opportunity for human connection, not to mention the opportunity to contribute (albeit in a small way) to the greater well-being of my community.
My street is filled with people I don’t know. We wave to one another, sure. And there’s a Facebook page where people post warnings about coyotes and announce that they have extra mulch, if anybody wants some. But despite our proximity, we’re fundamentally strangers to one another.
You and I probably agree that knocking on your neighbors’ door to ask for money is not necessarily the best excuse for knocking on their doors. But it is, at the very least, a good excuse, particularly if you’re raising money for a cause that will benefit the neighborhood. In our increasingly fragmented civil life, among proliferating and distracting digital technologies, it’s essential that we continue to have face-to-face conversations with those around us, and to depend on one another for mutual aid. The need for new band uniforms is a fine thing to discuss. So are parochial summer camps, and school supplies, and any of the other causes that send kids (or adults) marching up and down the street, clipboards in hand.
Amateur fundraisers like the girls on my street are a welcome in-breaking of the personal, the relational, and the vulnerable to our world’s customary indifference and anonymity. It’s also worth acknowledging the gift that those girls offered me and my neighbors: to practice philanthropy, the love of others.
It’s all too tempting to rue the number of people who would, given the chance, lay claim to our hard-earned money. But if you believe that giving away money is good for the soul, it’s hard not to be at least a little grateful when a child knocks on the door and bravely describes some small thing you can help accomplish.
I recognize there is a limit to this idea. If charities turned loose dozens of clipboard-toting kids at every street corner, and my door rattled from the knocking of adolescent fists…well, sure, that would get old. I think that day is a long way off.
In the meantime, the largely empty, largely suburban streets of my community are less foreboding—and my neighborhood is a more hospitable place—thanks to fundraisers.