I’ve started asking successful vendors about the 30-second pitch that they use to sell the paper. One recent Wednesday morning, when vendors gathered to pick up the new papers, I spoke to Darrell, a vendor who just started and has sold more than 1,000 papers in his first month with Real Change. He said he tells people about how the paper not only puts food in his mouth but also raises awareness about social justice issues. At the end of his pitch, he said he asks for a “donation.” Ten minutes later, I spoke to Thomas, another new vendor, and he offered a different but equally effective pitch. Strikingly, he too concluded his pitch by asking people to make a “donation.”
Darrell and Thomas asked me what I thought and invited feedback. In both cases, I explained that I loved what they had to say, but if I had one suggestion, it would be to avoid the term “donation.” I thought I might have to explain why, but they got it immediately. Darrell remembered that this had been mentioned in orientation. The notion that he is doing a job, not asking for charity, resonated with him. When I mentioned it to Thomas, it was like a light bulb went on. He said the other day he was talking to a potential customer about the paper and the guy was eating it up. But “the guy went all Ronald Reagan on me” and walked away the minute Thomas asked for a donation.
It’s still surprising to me that so many people in Seattle don’t understand that the basis of Real Change isn’t charity. Vendors purchase the paper for 60 cents and sell it for $2. The money we get from selling the paper to our vendors offsets a significant portion of the cost of the high-quality paid journalists who create the content. Our paper is an award-winning source of news you don’t find elsewhere, specializing in race and class equity.
Real Change’s earned income accounts for more than one-third of our revenue. As such, we are a social enterprise, not a charity. Similarly, our vendors are entrepreneurs. They are using hard-earned money to buy papers and they bear the financial risk if they do not sell them.
Darrell told me that he’d been offered four or five jobs from customers since he started selling the paper. He told them he was not interested because he was invested in Real Change. He said to me proudly that he was an entrepreneur who made his own hours, paid his taxes and that there was good money to be made.
There’s a reason we are Real Change, not Real Charity. We invest in creating a high-quality product every week that informs people about important issues of race and class equity and motivates them to act for justice. Our sales people are homeless and formerly homeless people who have multiple barriers to employment, but are some of the hardest working people I have met. They invest their hard-earned money in a product they count on reselling. When you buy a paper, or two, you are not “donating” to them. You are investing in a quality product and rewarding their entrepreneurial drive. Thank you for being a loyal customer.
Alan Preston is the Director of Programs and Equity. He has extensive experience in nonprofit leadership and has passionate commitment to economic justice.
Read the full June 7 issue.