Downtown street canvassers agree to ‘code of conduct’ — All Capitol Hill has to do is ask

Thursday afternoon, Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen will be at the Hard Rock Cafe, of all places, to announce details of an agreement forged with the four companies responsible for most of the street canvassers who call out to you, stick clipboards in your face and try to shake your hand in an effort to get your signature and sign you up for a variety of do-good causes.

The 6-point code of conduct — you can read it in full, below — calls for limits of engagement including defining exactly how a canvasser might physically engage a passerby — “Canvassers will not intrude on a pedestrian by slowing or blocking their path.”

No word yet on whether Tim Burgess is taking notes on the situation.

According to Council staff, the agreement on the code of conduct was forged after nearly a year of talks between the canvassing companies, downtown business representatives and City Hall.

“Local businesses, hotels and meeting planners have felt aggressive canvassing has had a detrimental impact on the Downtown Seattle shopping experience,” the announcement about the announcement reads.

And while it has been set in place to manage the downtown environment, all the Capitol Hill community likely needs to do to bring changes to Broadway and Pike/Pine is get its business community coordinated to push for a Capitol Hill agreement, too. 

“If they didn’t want this to be more heavily regulated, they had to self regulate,” the staffer said. “Downtown business organizations took the initiative after we met with them.”

The new code of conduct is a voluntary agreement with the four companies with names like Fund for Public Outreach and Public Outreach Group and there is no regulatory or enforcement aspect of the plan at this time. But the situation will be heavily monitored and groups involve know that legislation could be right around the corner if the situation on downtown sidewalks doesn’t improve

Code of Conduct Language
Pike & Pine Street Canvassing Organizations

I, the undersigned, own, operate or manage a business located on Pike and Pine Street between Pike Place Market and 9th Avenue.  Our signatures below indicate our support of the following guidelines for organizations that canvass, solicit, or otherwise act on behalf of nonprofit organizations, causes, and groups in the Pike & Pine Street Business Association area as described herein:

 1.  Canvassers will not stop the flow of traffic or block a pedestrian’s walking path. 

2.  Canvassers will not walk backwards or alongside a pedestrian in an attempt to follow or engage the pedestrian.

3.      Canvassers will not aggressively beg or solicit members of the public.  Canvassers will not intrude on a pedestrian by slowing or blocking their path.   Canvassers may invite a pedestrian or pedestrians to stop and engage them.  Canvassers will remain stationary (fixed in one place) or can move toward a pedestrian no more than one step.  Should a pedestrian choose NOT to stop or to be engaged, the pedestrian will be politely thanked and allowed to move on with interruption.

 4.  All professional canvassers (excluding those who work directly for the charity for whom they are fundraising) must identify that they are working for a canvassing agency and not the charity itself. 

5.  All canvassers must be clearly identifiable as such (i.e. always wearing an ID badge and charity branded clothing – shirts in summer, jackets or bibs in the winter). 

6.  Canvassers will always end a conversation in a polite and respectful manner as soon as they are asked to.

I, the undersigned, understand that organizations agreeing to the terms and conditions described herein do so on a voluntary basis and, consequently, acknowledge their appreciation for these organizations preserving, maintaining, and fostering positive relations and working as good neighbors within our community.

Plastic Bag Ban
Meanwhile, in more news re: City Council progress, Slog reports that the Northwest Grocery Association supports the Council plan to ban plastic shopping bags and institute a five-cent fee for paper bags. 

“The Nickels administration was married to this idea a 20-cent bag tax that went to government—that was a nonstarter,” says Gilliam. His group stayed “neutral” on that fight “and we all saw the results of it,” he says. The American Chemistry Council funded a $1.4 million campaign that ultimately overturned that measure in August 2009.

36 thoughts on “Downtown street canvassers agree to ‘code of conduct’ — All Capitol Hill has to do is ask

  1. I don’t find the Capitol Hill canvassers to be quite as aggressive as the ones downtown but once in a while I’d get one who would repeatedly block my bath, put their arms out so I couldn’t easily go around, etc. I avoid Broadway like the plague now unless I am specifically visiting a Broadway business. A 10th Ave stroll to QFC is much less irritating.

  2. You are correct, the Hill canvassers are much less aggressive. Unfortunately for them, they are hitting many of us after we’ve just been barraged by and/or put out of our way to avoid the aggressive and overwhelming number of downtown canvassers.

  3. I think that there needs to be something in the guidelines that says there can only be one canvasser per intersection. It’s like a maze sometimes trying to find a route around them when there are two or three of them blocking all the streets at once!

  4. For those of us who walk through the chuggers [Charity Muggers] on a daily basis, perhaps some sort of “do not disturb” or “no soliciting” badge would help? As someone who works near Pike Place and lives in Capitol Hill, I regularly encounter 8-12 of these canvassers a day in the summer. No, I do not want to be the 100th person that day to shake your hand, and no, I do not want to “save dying babies” or “support planned parenthood”… at least not with through a group who is going to skim 90% off the top to pay for their canvassing campaign.

  5. Yes! Pens are heavy, and I might get ink on my hands. Food is also best consumed through a straw or straight from the teet.

    Truthfully, I realize that the canvassers are doing what must be one of the most depressing jobs on the planet, so I try to be nice – but I do get annoyed when they are overly aggressive or aren’t clearly identifiable – they’ve made it so I assume anyone trying to be friendly on the street is just looking for a donation.

  6. Absolutely agreed. I work right in the downtown core, and between me and my bus stop, there are two intersections with at least two canvassers — usually four.

  7. From Point #3: ” Should a pedestrian choose NOT to stop or to be engaged, the pedestrian will be politely thanked and allowed to move on with interruption.”

    I am hoping this is a typo, but even still, it needs to be corrected. I, personally, would enjoy moving on WITHOUT interruption.

  8. …who are (at least in my experience) invariably polite and not pushy, and understand that when I make eye contact and acknowledge their existence I am just trying to be a decent human being, and not issuing an invitation to a more aggressive solicitation. I don’t mind exchanging pleasantries with those guys at all, but I will walk past anyone in a blue vest like they’re invisible.

  9. I work downtown too and often have to run the gauntlet of “chuggers” (ha ha, love that). I’ve found if you walk quickly and confidently past them and don’t make eye contact they will leave you alone. It’s like dealing with a band of wild racoons or something. Don’t let them see your fear!

  10. oops, re: my subject: I’ve found if they do try to engage, saying “Sorry, I’m late for an appointment” works every time. They totally back off. Joking, “Actually, I hate children/the earth/emergency services/choice” does NOT work.

  11. My old tactic was to tell them that I was a poor grad student (which I was), so I couldn’t afford to make a contribution. That worked until I encountered one particularly aggressive chugger (hehe). I’d made my bi-annual trip to Old Navy to buy some much-needed clothing, and when I told a chugger I couldn’t afford to help, he started following me, pointing at my shopping bag and demanding to know how much I spent. He actually walked next to me and harassed me for about half a block. I don’t remember how I finally shook him off, I think I asked for his manager’s name. Maybe I walked into a snide comment by saying I couldn’t afford a contribution while I was carrying a shopping bag, but really? Continued harassment and creepy following were absolutely unwarranted.

    The chuggers on Capitol Hill aren’t nearly as bad. Usually I’ll tell them that I support their cause (if that’s the case) but can’t afford to give monetary support right now, and they’re typically very polite about it.

    I agree that the Real Change people are incomparably better than the chuggers. I always give them at least a smile, and/or some change if I have any.

  12. My friends call them “human spam.” Glad someone is doing something about it. Never liked the idea of organizations using public sidewalks for their own gains. Same as those chalk ads on the sidewalks.

  13. There are surely other people at those intersections, how do you get by them?

    Just look at your shoes and shuffle on by if the eye contact makes you shrink back into your shell.

  14. I have to say, this conversation could not be more Seattle. I have a suggestion for all of you, just politely say no, and walk away. It’s hard for me to think that a bunch of young people in our community getting jobs working to raise money for non-profit organizations is a bad thing. Listen to yourselves, chugger? Much less the fact that we might be confronted with people who ask for some money in our neighborhood for what I see mostly as good causes. I agree that some of them are aggressive, and it’s nice to see some sort of pledge, but for those of you who are passive aggressive listen up: you don’t need a button, you don’t have to look down at your shoes and shuffle away, I’m pretty sure you don’t even need to pretend to be on a cell phone. Here’s my advice: just politely decline like most of us adults who are from other parts of the country do.

    Hmm, I had no idea I would be standing up for canvassers today, but the whole Seattle passive aggressive thing has really gotten to me…clearly.

  15. I second that Lindsay. Do we really need to legislate this? I think trying to avoid eye contact or walking wide encourages more “aggressive” tactics. Just look them in the eye and say no, not interested, shake your head, whatever… and keep moving. I think that solves 99% of encounters, and a little more assertiveness on your part addresses any outliers.

    Remember paggro Seattle, you don’t need to slow down. You don’t need to shake hands. You don’t need to justify why you aren’t giving money or stopping. All you need to do is let them know you’re not interested and keep on your way.

  16. Thank you, Tom Rasmussen…another example of your fine leadership!

    I would like to see this “code of conduct” apply to those who are paid to gather signatures for an initiative. Actually, I feel strongly that this practice should be banned entirely. If you really believe in a cause, and want to volunteer your time to get some signatures, that’s great. But paid gatherers are a subversion of the democratic process…it is the first step towards “buying an election,” as Costco recently did.

    If someone tries to get me to sign for an initiative, I first ask if they are paid. If they say “yes,” as they almost always do, then I keep on walking.

  17. My experience with the canvassers range from easy-going declines (majority) to outright street harassment. One fellow (in the U-District) would not let it go, despite declining (tactfully and politely) three times. I’m from New York, I don’t do passive or indirect- but the persistence was incredible. He followed me to my bike until I told him point blank (and impolitely) to “Go away!”

    I have had canvassers pretend they worked for the organization directly, which it soon becomes clear they do not know much about it, or be generally just not respect a “No”. It’s not all of them, not even a majority. The minority is large enough that dread crosses me whenever I see one.

    I get that people need to make a living, and that any job which involves having everyone say “No” to you for the entire day bites. At the same time… they could stand to learn something from the Real Change folks.

  18. honestly, this legislation isn’t going to change things from my POV. the only thing that would make me happy is if the chuggers went away altogether. I think they’re annoying as hell, even when they’re behaving themselves.

    the thing that really burns me is the charities they represent are huge and so well known– Planned Parenthood, ACLU, etc. everybody knows about these charities! it’s not like we’ve never heard about them before. if I want to make a donation, I will do it online, thank you very much. an ad campaign would be more effective, IMO. when I see a billboard or online ad for a charity, I’m much more likely to think — “oh yeah, I was going to donate to them this year.”

  19. Oh yea, because banning speech has worked so well in the past. Are you crazy? Now if you were to say that there should be some campaign finance reform I would say, yay! When you start using the word ban, and it pertains to speech, I say step back, buddy.

  20. Ok, really? I worked for an NPO after college, and one rule of thumb in fundraising is that the reason people don’t give money is because no one has asked them to give.

    Online campaigns don’t work, the commercials that you talk about air at 3:30 in the morning, so you really have an audience of speed addicts, people who do not work, insomniacs, and possibly a few people with good jobs, but work a different shift.

    How many donations have you made this year? Honestly, how many?

  21. I agree that you just need to say no and keep on walking. However, I work in downtown and during the summer it is very frustrating to try to walk anywhere around Westlake. After politely saying no and continue to walk I’ve had the following happen:

    1. the canvasser follows me to the end of the block loudly asking me why I don’t want to help children. I then had to loudly tell him to leave me alone and only escaped when the light turned.

    2. Had one stand right in my path and pretend to “dance” with me as I tried to get around him. He then scolded me for being unfriendly because I didn’t shake his hand.

    3. Had one loudly yell that for someone who wouldn’t stop and donate money I was sure wearing some expensive clothes.

    4. Etc…etc…etc…

    It is exasperating when you have to dodge 3 per block before you get where you going. I am able to “survive” because I don’t get embarrassed by their antics (for a week a guy yelled “it’s the lady in red!” because I wear a red coat). I’m not from Seattle (i’m from New York) and am pretty obnoxious to them when they cross the line. However, I do worry about the tourists that get caught in their traps and I think it makes the city look bad.

  22. It works well for me. I generally try to maintain the opinion that people are people, even if they have shitty jobs. People are so alienated these days anyway.

  23. @tmo: Um, not that I physically can’t get by them, just that they stand on opposite sides of an intersection so that no matter which way someone goes, they have to pass them. I don’t walk around looking at my shoes, I tend to actually look where I’m going. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to not try and trap people going about their normal business.

  24. I think you’re missing the point. Rachael hit it right on the head. It’s not about them being there, it’s about the methods they use to try and guilt you into giving them something whether or not you’ve expressed interest.

    I think it’s hilarious who ask us not to call them names and they turn around and deposit a mass generalization about “passive aggressive” Seattle. It’s all a bunch of bullshit. We’re not more passive aggressive than someone from Texas or Maine or Florida or LA.

    And the Chuggers are obnoxious.

  25. @Lindsey:

    I donated to Wikipedia because of a large ask at the top of their website. I donated to three non-profits because they sent me an email about their need for further support. I donated to a political campaign because (again) they sent me an email and they ran various television ads.

    I have never donated because someone came up to me in the street and asked me to. It’s rude. It lends itself to an immediate guilt of “if I say no, this person will think poorly of my character.”

    Also, since you’re a former fundraiser, you should know that the context of the ask is just as important as the ask itself. Interrupting someone while they’re walking down the street toward whatever destination is pretty much the least desirable mind frame that you would want a potential donor in.

  26. Lindsay, you didn’t read my comment with comprehension. I have nothing against signature-gathering per se…initiatives are an important part of our democratic process. But I do have a problem with PAID signature-gatherers, because that is just a part of buying an election.

  27. That’s sad pal….

    “if I say no, this person will think poorly of my character.”

    These minimum wage street workers make you feel this way? I’d be happy to recommend a therapist. As for you being a very rare philanthropist (except for the political donation), that’s great! You are rare, and organizations should be very happy to have you. But again, stick up for yourself buddy, I’m sure if you start saying no a bit more, you’ll get the hang of it. Better yet maybe you could spend some time in another part of the country where no one else makes you feel guilty, guilt is really created from within.

  28. Thank you, Lindsey. You are absolutely right. If the worst thing that happens to you when you are walking down the street is that someone “bothers” you to take action on an issue that most likely affects you in some way (i.e. Environment Washington, WashPIRG, Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy), then you probably have it pretty good.

    There are some organizations that are more aggressive than others. But still, we have the gift of freedom of speech in our country and I applaud those that exercise it on a daily basis.

    And getting paid to do it – I do NOT see how the $22 million Costco spent to privatize liquor in Washington State could possibly equate to the minimum wage canvassers make while they stand outside in the cold for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week working to solve our countries most dire problems. Not everyone has the luxury of volunteering and paid canvassing positions give people a chance to work full-time on issues they care about.

    Don’t assume just because their paid that they don’t care about it.

  29. Much like violence, incivility does not often warrant a response in kind.

    Instead of avoiding the canvassers, looking away, pretending to be on your phone… try treating them like human beings. Yes, they are annoying, but I’ve found the most effective approach to be the most direct.

    If you’re trying to pretend they’re not there, they will work harder to attract your attention. Pre-empt with full frontal eye contact, confident posture, and rapid step. When they ask “Do/can/would you blah blah blah,” lock eyes, never break stride and say “no thanks.” Anything other than a direct no is a somewhat cowardly response.