$20 and Four Lessons Learned

WACAP staff member, Missy Harrel, shares how a surprise sales pitch sails into a chat about philanthropy, which leads to something unexpected. She acknowledges that demands for time and attention, and even invitations to support causes dear to us, are draining. Here, Missy offers readers new footing in a crowded landscape through a few universal lessons learned about the flipside of ‘the ask.’

gas station in the rain

“Do you have a minute?” a voice in the distance said as I got out of my car.

I had just stopped to refuel for the after-work commute. I’d had a long day, but glancing at the other patrons in line for self-serve gasoline, I knew wasn’t alone. All I really wanted was to be home.

I saw someone striding my way from across the parking lot, waving at me like he was trying to hail a cab. In his right hand, he held a shiny, pink canister and a dirty towel.

I refocused on the amber screen there in front of gas pump #3.

Credit Card? Yes.   Fuel Rewards? No.   Regular Unleaded: Yes.

“Do you have a minute?!”

“No,” I thought, and looked up to find the young man was unmistakably addressing me. I just wasn’t quick enough in my reply.

Lesson #1: When we’re over-extended, “just a little more” can feel like “a little too much.”

Certainly, I’m not alone in this experience. Who hasn’t been asked for “one more thing” when they’re already spread too thin?

We’re asked—or we’re asking someone—to give, buy, consider, or do something, a lot. Whether via email, social media, phone calls, or scams, these asks for “another minute” can be as draining as they are prevalent. They can make the most charitable or patient among us bristle.

Such was my state, that rainy evening at the gas station.

Lesson #2: Important connections get missed in the rush to say “no.”

The man offered a quick demo of his product, moving his pink spray can across my car windshield before I could say no.

A pastel foam soon covered several windows, expanding in the rain. My patience shriveled.

My gas tank wasn’t even half full, but I knew I wasn’t interested. Still, the man persisted.

His name was John and his product was “amazing,” he’d said. It would whisk the rain away, and I would no longer need windshield wipers. At only $20, John was proud to declare, this product practically paid for itself.

I tried again to close the door on John’s sale attempt. I explained $20 was the amount of one of my last charitable donations made to my employer, WACAP.

“When I have an extra $20.00, I try to donate it a cause I care about—like finding families for children who are waiting to be adopted. I’m going to pass on your product, but that’s the reason why,” I said.

I hadn’t yet told him that my colleagues see children every day who’ve been overlooked in orphanages and in state foster care, and they believe there’s only one acceptable outcome for these kids: that they’re unabashedly loved by a family.

Sometimes, for WACAP’s staff, social workers, board and volunteers, the days are long. It’s hard for them to go home … because “home,” for children that don’t have one, is what everyone is so busy fighting for.

Everyone I’ve met at WACAP gives more than they’re asked to give, whether a small gift of $20 now and then, or something larger; a little extra time, or a whole lot.

For some reason, they do it without being asked.

Lesson #3: Sharing something small might amount to something substantial.

John couldn’t believe that I gave money to my employer. To him, the whole concept seemed “backwards.” But, his face was earnest; his curiosity, sincere.

The conversation took a quick left turn, barreling away from foam window sealants, and landing squarely on the topic of non-profits. It was the last conversation I could have expected at a gas station in the rain: John wanted to know why I would give money back to my employer.

We talked about how nonprofits look at the world around them: How they see people who aren’t represented or whose needs aren’t being met; how most often, the people who form this kind of organization do it because they really care.

We talked about what nonprofits need: How they ask for support through fund drives, fundraisers, pledges, events or even cookie sales.

And we both agreed: The request to donate money, or give more, to one more cause can get old.

We landed here, with this realization:

The flip side to that pricey box of cookies, or those ‘donate now’ messages is that nonprofits can only serve their community because there are communities of people who help by giving back.

When an organization does fundraising, they’re acknowledging that connection. They’re admitting that they can’t do it alone, or without us.

Lesson #4: We forget what inspires us when we’re hurried, and we neglect to share it with others.

With a full tank of gas, my windows clean, and the rain picking up, I was ready to go, but felt less hurried. John asked more about WACAP, and we went our separate ways thinking about the importance of home, the value of family, and the children who need both.

I didn’t leave with a can of pink window sealant. John wasn’t leaving with a sale.

I started homeward 15 minutes later than planned, but realizing that often unwelcome question—“Do you have a minute?”— was a reminder of why I needed to make time.

And the sales pitch for a $20.00 product I didn’t need?—it became the welcome souvenir of an impromptu chat about what inspires me to give … when no one asks.

It’s because of …

mh-photo-profile-wacapAbout Communications Editor, Missy Harrel: Missy joined WACAP’s communication team in 2011. Prior to that, she spent the first part of her career in nonprofit program management focused on child welfare and early learning, as well as teaching in higher education. Growing up with family and friends who were adopted, she has an ongoing interest in listening to and sharing about family, their connections and the stories they create together. She blends her communications background with a love of learning. And she enjoys reading a good poem, sipping a nice cup of coffee, or a seeing a child jump carefree into a mud puddle overcome with the feeling of joy and opportunity that every child deserves. 


WACAP (World Association for Children and Parents) is one of the largest and most experienced international nonprofit adoption and child assistance agencies in the United States. Since 1976, we’ve placed over 10,000 children with loving adoptive parents and provided food, medical care and education to more than 200,000 children around the world.
This entry was posted in Adoption, Philanthropy, Staff/Board Spotlight and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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