Being compassionate in a cruel world can make an individual’s efforts seem hopeless. It can also be a great opportunity. Just one or two individuals can plant a seed of empathy in the hearts of thousands. All it takes is an afternoon, a smile, and a box of leaflets. I am finding this out every day as I travel to colleges across the Midwest with fellow Michigan activist Phil Letten and leafleting legend Victor Sjodin.
I’ve learned more than a few lessons in psychology from Vic, who nearly doubled the previous Vegan Outreach semester leaflet record of 54,000, and is on track to be the organization’s number one leafleter for the third semester running. Sjodin, a veritable leaflet machine, has been on the road for the last 16 months perfecting his craft.
Rather than horde my newfound knowledge in the art of the outstretched hand, I am passing along the tips of the master. Although some ideas are specific to college campuses, the logic can be applied to any public area.
First, don’t get discouraged! Regardless of how impressive your pitch might be, a lot of leaflets will end up in the garbage or on the ground. A lot. Just remember that a lot also cause people to make life-changing decisions that save animals, and those people will affect their own friends and family, and so on. During slow periods, pick up leaflets and restock those that are salvageable.
Make a connection. Eye-contact and a smile set the tone of the interaction. If you express interest, enthusiasm, and respect, you will usually receive the same. However, be sensitive to individuals- women will respond to males who appear more kind and less threatening, whereas many men will take the same behavior as sissy. If you’re male, drop your voice a few octaves for the guys and give a head-nod. Vic refers this form of contact as the “bro down.”
Find high-traffic areas. If you are on or near a college campus, look for intersections near the middle of campus or entrances to campus from parking ramps where commuters will bottleneck. Bottlenecks are the best place to be, and if they’re really busy, a pair standing opposite each other at an entrance will more than double your “take” rate.
Ask students when class changes occur, and be ready for those. During the 20-minute period that students leave one class and travel to another, you will hand out more leaflets than the 40 minutes during which most students are in their classrooms. We use downtime to warm up inside and down a small meal.
Make a statement, rather than a question. Instead of asking “Would you like a brochure?” say something like “Info on helping animals and the environment.” Just try to change it up occasionally. Holding the leaflet out and stating, rather than inquiring, will compel more takers. If someone stops, you might add “It’s about where our food comes from- disturbing but good to know.”
Extend the leaflet to where their free hand is. The less they have to move, the more likely they are to take the leaflet.
If a large group is approaching, take care in to whom you first offer the literature. If the first person rejects it, the rest will almost certainly do the same. Avoid older people and anyone with hunting camoflauge.
When someone says they’re vegetarian make them feel like they’re Mother Teresa, then take the opportunity to talk about the benefits of removing other animal products from their diets. (We keep a couple of the Vegan Outreach ‘Guide to Cruelty Free Eating’ pamphlets in our back pockets for this occasion.) If they’re vegan, ask them if they are in contact with the local animal rights group and would like to help, either today or in the future.
Address questions if you’re not busy, but ignore disrespectful people. If someone drops the words “extremist”, “meatatarian,” or an expletive, either ignore them completely or tell them to have a nice day. If you’re busy give a website with more information or offer to chat when things slows down.
PS The picture is of Phil Letten, a fellow Michigan activist.