Updated on 09.25.07

Handling Door To Door Solicitors

Trent Hamm

My wife has a serious weakness for youths who tell her a hard knock tale, and it rarely comes up with such vigor as when teenagers come door to door. They tell her a tale about a troubled life and how they’ve found a program that keeps them out of trouble – and it involves selling magazines! She’ll listen for a while, let her sympathies run wild (whether they’re founded or not), and wind up buying a vastly overpriced magazine subscription.

There are a lot of problems with this whole scenario, which my wife and I have talked about many times:

First, you have no idea who door to door solicitors actually are. They can claim any number of things, but how do you know what they’re raising funds for? Sometimes, it’s easier to tell – they’re selling t-shirts for the local high school, so you can be fairly sure it’s a local cause. But when a random person comes by selling magazines, how can you know in any way who they are?

Second, their offerings are often obscenely overpriced. A recent solicitor was offering Wired subscriptions for $38. Considering you can easily find a subscription to that magazine for $10 (and you can find it cheaper than that if you search a bit), this is just highway robbery.

Third, they’re interrupting your life. Solicitors that come to your door are eating your time. If you’re not highly interested in what they’re saying, they’re on your property devouring your time. That’s a waste right there.

In a nutshell, door to door solicitors are in the same group as telemarketers – you have no way of making sure they’re actually who they say they are and are representing who they claim to represent. Thus, my approach is to handle them in much the same way I handle a telemarketer – tell them to go away by default, and follow up of my own accord if I’m truly interested.

My game plan: as soon as I identify a non-local solicitor, I usually quickly and politely say I’m not interested and shut the door. Even if the charity or organization is interesting to you, it’s not worth the potential risk of giving any information to an unknown person or group.

If the solicitor is local, I’m far more likely to consider it – for example, if the boy next door is selling candy bars to pay for part of a class trip, or a high school student is selling an Entertainment book to buy uniforms for their team. This is easier to do if you live in a smaller town and you actually have a high likelihood of knowing the solicitor’s family and friends.

If it’s a religious missionary or a political person (I live in Iowa, so I occasionally get people promoting a presidential candidate), I usually debate them, though you may wish to treat them like other non-local solicitors.

Although my wife’s heart is in the right place, I encourage her to find other ways to help children in need, not via a door to door marketer.

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  1. Javi0084 says:

    I just don’t open the door :)

  2. Peggy says:

    What Javi said.

  3. Susy says:

    I usually ask their info and say I’d rather donate the full amount to the organization rather that “buy” something that raises money for the organization. They often don’t have info to give you. I also often use the line that we have already budgeted our charity donations for the year and if they leave info I’ll consider them when I do my budget next year. That usually handles the situation. However if it’s a local kid asking me to buy a “savings card” for local businesses I usually buy. I will support my local community and local business.

    We live in a gated community now that won’t let door-to-door solicitors in, so we no longer have to deal with this, thankfully!

  4. Lynn says:

    You debate religious missionaries? Now who’s “devouring your time,” Trent?

  5. Jim Lippard says:

    Door-to-door magazine sales crews are bad news. Check out this New York Times story from earlier this year about them.

    I don’t think these are businesses most people would want to support…

  6. kitty says:

    Normally, I listen to the message then say politely “I am not interested”. When I was young and stupid, a couple of cute kids managed to get me to buy a subscription I didn’t need. Since then I don’t let them inside.

    There are also door-to-door salesmen. I haven’t seen those for a while, but I had an experience with them about 15 years ago. They were selling a vacuum cleaner and I let them in hoping they’ll clean my apartment while demonstrating it. I was a bit disappointed that they only cleaned a portion of my living room before naming some ridiculous price. I told, I already have one, no thanks. I was then wondering if I should’ve told them “I am not yet convinced. Maybe if you clean my whole apartment I’d be more receptive.” Otherwise it was wasted half an hour, and I still needed to do my own cleaning.

  7. FIRE Finance says:

    One has to use discrimination. It might be dangerous to let in a person whom we do not know. However at times we have found some great deals from d2d salespeople! But those cases have been few.

  8. Mike says:

    Another tip is to let the person know that you aren’t prepared to make a decision on the spot. Ask if they have any information or literature to share, as well as contact information so you can get in touch when (if) you are ready to buy/donate/etc.

    If the person is not legitimate, this should scare them away. For local organizations, it should be easy to provide a phone number to call or a location to visit, to make your donation or purchase something.

  9. Karl says:

    There’s another very valid reason not to support door-to-door organizations, particularly ones that hire teenagers. Very often these organizations take advantage of teenagers, putting them on commission where their hourly rate ends up being less than the minimum wage. There are also numerous cases where teenage crew members have been beaten and raped by their managers or other crew members. I have no doubt that there are some good groups (hopefully unaware) that use this method for fundraising, but there is no way to tell the difference between some one raising money for their local troop vs. a runaway teenager working in a sales crew who was told to say that by their scumbag crew leader.

    Please don’t take my word for it. There’s an excellent website called at http://www.parentwatch.org/about.html that goes into the dangers of supporting these groups in far more detail than I could.

    I understand your wife has a good heart, please tell her she could do far more good and far less harm by getting the subscription more cheaply directly from the publisher or online, and contributing the difference directly to local youth groups. Thanks for your time.

  10. SUSAN says:

    We recently had a police office give a talk for a neighborhood watch program our block is starting. He strongly advised against d2d for security reasons and also possible identity theft issues-(checks given to who knows who?) It is sad that a kind heart has to be so careful of scams.

  11. Sara says:

    I had a teenager come to the door with some story about having to go door to door to improve his social skills, and then I was supposed to write down my name and address and some other junk so he could prove that he had spoken to so many people. Not surprisingly, he was arrested. In our driveway. A few months later, another kid came by with the same spiel. I told him I wasn’t interested and let him know what had happened to the other guy.

  12. Nightfall says:

    I second what Karl said above.

  13. Dana says:

    We have a household “no fundraiser” policy. This includes door-to-door, school clubs and teams, and work parties (Tastefully Simply, Avon, etc.). It may sound heartless, but my husband was shelling out for every group at school (he teaches) and it was getting ridiculous. Now neither of us can be pressured into buying something we don’t want because we can “regretfully” blame each other for making the rule. :)

  14. Geoff says:

    A simple sign above the door bell – no solicitation. Works like a charm.

  15. PamD says:

    I refuse to do “business” at my front door. I printed a 4x5inch sign that I taped to the window next to my door and doorbell… “NO door-to-door sales or soliciting PLEASE!!” It has been there 8 months and so far it seems to be working.

  16. plonkee says:

    In all cases, I open the door with the words ‘sorry I’m not interested’ on my lips. If its something that I really need, I’ll realise that without a door-to-door salesman telling me.

  17. Mrs. Micah says:

    My mom buys wrapping paper from the kids down the street, but that’s it. Fortunately, my apt building is locked, so solicitors can’t get in!

    There is this one guy who always tries to convert me outside the metro (by a religious school). I just tell him “Franciscan tertiary, thanks” and go on my way. I feel slightly dishonest, since I’m only “discerning” but he doesn’t need to know.

    My mom would debate Mormons. Not my style.

  18. lorax says:

    If it’s a religious missionary or a political person … I usually debate them

    In my experience, this just leads to frustration on both sides.

    You should do a story on (not?) buying junk to support the local solicitors. Personally, I usually just ask them if I can write a check instead. I don’t need the junk.

    Schools only keep about 50% of the proceeds. It’s a warped market that requires junk to be sold to support schools. :(

  19. maria says:

    I answer the door and say “I’m sorry, but nobody is home.” They usually look confused and then they go away.

  20. Lisa says:

    I live in a great community and I know all the kids on my block (about 20 homes). If a kid on my block comes selling candy bars for baseball uniforms, unpopped popcorn for band uniforms, etc. I buy one item. If I don’t recognize the kid, I tell them that I donate to the kids on my street.

    I admit that I am a sucker for the kids. I used to be one of them. Yes, it is a warped system and I do wish they at least didn’t sell such Junk. On the other hand, I rationalize it as a small price I gladly pay to have the sense of community I enjoy on my block.

    What do you do when it is your OWN kid who is required to sell junk door to door?

  21. vh says:

    High school kids (and younger) are often victimized by scam operators. Some of them are dropped off in strange neighborhoods and left there to bang on doors until well after dark; generally they see little or no profit for their efforts.

    More to the point: kid or no kid, it’s mighty dangerous to open the door to a stranger. You don’t know who’s out there around the corner of the house. Our neighborhood has had three home invasions that I know of within the past few years, two of them resulting when homeowners naively opened the front door to someone with an appealing story.

    I have a German shepherd and a security door with a deadbolt that I keep locked. But even then, I never open the door unless I recognize the person who is out there.

    When my son was little, I did not let him sell junk door to door. Besides the fact that I didn’t feel right bugging the neighors with something I dislike myself, I didn’t think it was safe for him.

  22. Siena says:

    I saw on 20/20 (or some show like that) an expose on those kids who come to your door to sell magazines. Good chance they are teenage runaways who were recruited off the streets to sell magazines. They are paid slave wages, usually sleep in hotels (all of them in one small room) and are abused mentally (not physically on the expose). The people who “recruit” them are nothing better than pimps because they care nothing for the teens who should be in school or foster care. And when the kid gets too old and not looking like a teen anymore, the “pimp” dumps them. The expose was trying to get the magazine industry to take some responsiblity on this unethical practice and exploitive practive of child labor. Of course the magazine industry claims it cannot control this. Most legit places no longer do door to door. Girl Scout Cookies though (and to avoid buying expensive cookies without seeming like a meanie) I tell the girls I am on a diet. I can’t buy cookies. Sorry.

  23. Giselle says:

    I have a dog that looks pretty aggressive when strangers knock on my door. Living in SoCal, I usually have the glass door open so they can see him through the screen door.
    I usually just stand behind him and say “sorry, not interested.” while he is barking his head off.
    They never try to persuade me to let them in.

  24. Craig says:

    If you get a door to door person, simply listen for a half minute — if its not one of the best, you can politely tell them your not interested — if it is, DO IT. Giving is Godly.
    Also– the no soliciting signs above the door bell only get rid of the good people — the hard core high pressure solicitors willl ignore them.

  25. Macinac says:

    I’m going to read these comments through again because I really do need a solution for this. I usually assert that when I want something I go find it myself rather than waiting for it to find me. I will add that there is no shortage of channels nowadays. I will point out that my approach to money management does not allow for impulse purchases. If I’m really annoyed I can get very nasty, especially when it’s a grossly overpriced vacuum cleaner being hawked by someone with a stud through her tongue and a tattoo on the throat, walking on the shredded ends of her pants — and then she tells me that I need to buy from her so _she_ can win a prize! . . . But this is still a disruption.

  26. GEoff says:

    When I was a kid my Mom let some guy who was selling life insurance. She could not get him to leave, honestly she wasn’t being assertive enough, but she finally said ‘I have to make dinner’ and went to the kitchen and he just stayed in the living room. This guy was in our house for hours. Didn’t leave until my Dad came home. I’ll never forget watching Dukes of Hazard and playing Legos with the insurance salesmen.

    @Macinac – I really hate when the sales pitch is that I should buy something to help the door to door salesperson out. I answer from the hear with an astonished ‘I DON’T KNOW YOU!’.

  27. Adam says:

    I just recently made a webpage to help everyone who has been hunting for a good no soliciting sign for their home. please visit http://www.stopmysolicitors.com to get one. They seem to be very effective so far.

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