Forget flirtraising: be a busker

[Cache – #34]

I am 50 feet away on the sidewalk, but the beautiful girl in the skin-tight yoga pants is already flirting with me. Her come-hither smile is a brilliant white of perfect teeth. Her long black hair, lovely and straightened, is cut straight across her forehead. Although there is no one between us, her left arm is stretched high in the air, waving me forward. She has not yet said a word, but already I know she wants money.

She is one of a growing number of binder-toting young people, women and men, accosting passers-by on the streets of downtown Toronto. She is a flirtraiser – hired by one of seemingly countless prominent charities to spark up sidewalk conversations with strangers and flatter them into making a donation.

I once referred to these organizations as “beggar brands” for the manner in which they obstruct pedestrians with requests for money. Earlier this summer I realized the label was a putdown to real beggars. I was walking on Bloor Street West when I, like thousands of others on the busy sidewalk, walked by a homeless person curled up in a ball. No one was giving him any money. But directly across the street was a Lululemon-clad girl fawning over a guy in a suit. I wonder how much he gave her – instead of tossing a loonie to the next guy lying on the curb?

Moments later, her partner (they work in teams, staking out both sides of the street), told me how much he liked my shoes.

Except for the fleeting flattery, this is a fundraising approach that delivers absolutely no value to patrons. Although I’m told it’s very profitable, it could be not be more bankrupt. What an indignity to the bright young people seduced into doing it. Imagine the value they could be delivering, with complete honesty, if their charities injected even an ounce of integrity and creativity to their methods.

I’ve recently been exposed to two charitable organizations that do that and much more. One is the Car Rally for Kids with Cancer, in support of SickKids Foundation. Every September they hold a luxury car rally/scavenger hunt, in which donors “draft” a celebrity – last year including Gene Simmons, Mike “Pinball” Clemons and Eva Longoria of Desperate Housewives – to ride along with them and take part in a variety of once-in-a-lifetime experiences. In one pit stop, you and your celebrity have to improvise a dance routine for the judges of So You Think You Can Dance Canada. At another, you’re put behind bars on the set of Murdoch Mysteries, complete with actors in period costume, and have to negotiate your way out. Participants agree that the most memorable, indeed life-changing, stop is interacting with the pint-size patients of the Sick Kids pedriatric cancer unit. For their admirable creativity, the Car Rally raised $2.8 million last year from just 35 donors.

If you’re counting, that’s an average of *$80,000* each.

The other is Epilepsy Toronto, which holds the Scotiabank BuskerFest each August in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market.

(Full disclosure: I just joined the ET board.  What attracted me to them is their faith in the value they offer.)

Busking has been called the world’s most honest form of entertainment – you get to watch performances and only afterward decide what you want to pay, if anything. Buskers keep all of the money you throw in the hat, and Epilepsy Toronto raises funds by accepting a donation, in the amount of your choice, and only if you wish to pay it, as you enter the Market. More than one million people will take in the 2011 edition of this extravaganza.

These are just two of the many charities that prove the old adage that to receive, you’ve got to give – with integrity.

**The Car Rally for Kids with Cancer will be held September 16 and 17. Go to http://www.rallyforkids.com to learn more.

**Scotiabank BuskerFest will be held August 25-28. Learn more at www.torontobuskerfest.com

**Scotiabank BuskerBall, the gala event and auction, will be held August 23. For tickets, go to http://www.torontobuskerfest.com/#buskerball

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