Some parents and youth activity organizers have been known to beg, argue, at times lie, and have even lobbied their elected officials to place calls on their behalf.
But when it comes to reserving prime weekend time slots for fund-raising drives at popular commercial locations in Quincy, permission is granted strictly on a first-come, first-served basis.
“It’s super competitive to get the dates,” said City Clerk Joseph P. Shea, the recipient of many an underhanded effort from those angling for the best time slots. “And then [when requests are rejected], we become the bad guys because every football [program], every Little League, comes to the clerk’s office.”
The drives, commonly referred to as “canning,” often involve uniformed children outside supermarkets soliciting with donation cans or collection boxes.
While some communities let store managers decide whether to allow solicitations, Quincy requires groups to get a city permit at no cost, and to schedule their canning days. But to keep shoppers from navigating through a sea of requests as they cart groceries to their cars, licensing officials limit permits to one group per day for the entire city, said Cindy Manning, secretary to the licensing board and keeper of the canning calendar.
And therein lies the mad dash for Fridays and weekends, the most popular shopping days, she said.
“The whole year gets booked,” Manning said. “The busiest request time is right after Labor Day.”
Anyone still looking to hold a weekend canning drive this year has long been out of luck, she said. In fact, there are no open dates at all this year. And groups that got stuck with the unpopular Monday through Thursday slots and are hoping for better luck next year had better hurry.
“We’re pretty much booked” for 2014, Manning said, as she glanced through her calendar. “All the weekends are gone in January and February. There’s one weekend in March left. All of April is gone. There are three weekends in June that are open. And there’s one weekend in November left.”
Even as the popularity of online “crowdfunding” continues to soar, the old-fashioned act of soliciting cash from shoppers outside supermarkets, liquor stores, retailers, and coffee shops is still an integral funding component for local groups, from youth sports leagues to veterans’ organizations, said Rick Jakious, chief executive officer of the advocacy group Massachusetts Nonprofit Network.
“As important as the Internet has become in terms of a tool for fund-raising, I don’t think it’ll ever replace the basic human-to-human interaction,” Jakious said. “People are very busy in their lives, and you have to meet them where they’re at. Going to the Internet and choosing to give to an organization requires a very active approach. At a grocery store, it’s a little bit more passive. People have more time to explain their cause.”
Bruce E. Marquis, president of Storm Youth Football and Cheerleading Inc. in Quincy, said canning is a key part of the organization’s fund-raising, helping net a record $4,200 in six days last year. The rest of its funding comes from raffles and other donations to make up the $30,000 annual operating budget.
“Basically, 80 percent of the money in our society is in the pockets of individuals, not in the pockets of corporations,” said Marquis, who works as a consultant in the nonprofit sector. “Canning is where you get the general public; otherwise you keep hitting the same people who already donated. . . . We’re just one of thousands that do canning: softball, baseball, hockey, lacrosse [groups are] getting very popular.”
When the numbers are tallied, this year’s canning drive may not end up being as successful for the Storm, since it had to settle for a couple of weekdays in June, Marquis said. But the group was able to snag three consecutive Fridays last month and has already booked some weekend days for next year, including on Labor Day weekend, he said.
For members of the city’s Cub Scout Pack 42 , canning plays a significant part in their sales of popcorn, their biggest revenue maker, said Cubmaster Kevin Gillespie.
“This is the one big thing every year that we do,” Gillespie said. “For the past couple of years, we’ve been the top selling pack in the [Boston Minuteman] council” of the Boy Scouts of America.
Combined with neighborhood canvassing, canning helped Pack 42 sell $57,000 of popcorn last year when it was able to reserve two weeks from the city. This year, since it could reserve three days last weekend and six days next month, Gillespie said he expects the pack to sell about $30,000 of popcorn.
Compared with some neighboring communities, Quincy appears to be unique in the canning war front. With about 10 supermarkets, countless convenience stores, and numerous retail locations, Quincy draws shoppers from several communities, as well as their youth groups and other nonprofit organizations, Shea said.
Although out-of-town groups may consider Quincy their local marketplace, Shea said his office limits canning permits to local groups and residents. He has turned away groups from Milton, Dorchester, Randolph, and Braintree.
Shea said he doesn’t know for sure why canning is so popular in Quincy, but speculates it has to do with the proliferation of new youth sports clubs for such sports as lacrosse and swimming, adding to such longtime activities as baseball and football.
Paula Rizzi, executive secretary to Milton’s Board of Selectmen, said canning was new to Milton a few years back, leading officials to adopt regulations limiting how many groups can fund-raise on public sidewalks and requiring them to seek permission from the business where they plan to approach customers.
Popular canning spots in town include the Fruit Center Marketplace and the Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts in East Milton, Rizzi said. But the town has not experienced the scheduling conflicts prevalent in Quincy, she added.
In Brockton, groups are required to get a $10 permit from the city, as well as provide written notice from a business owner that they have given consent for canning to take place on their property, said City Clerk Anthony J. Zeoli. The permit limits soliciting to two days per year, and soliciting is not allowed on public property.
Only about a half-dozen permits were issued for canning drives last year and this year thus far, Zeoli said.
Ruth N. Bramson, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts, said she knows all about the importance of securing popular days and locations for fund-raising, given that organizers have to coordinate with 178 communities and 8,000 troops from New Hampshire to the Cape and Islands. The organization’s largest fund-raising event is their popular cookie sale, slated to run from Dec. 14 to March 14.
Years of experience have taught Bramson and other Girl Scouts volunteers that the best time to sell cookies is at a supermarket, from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, which is typically when most people go grocery shopping, she said.
Armed with a state permit, Girl Scouts volunteers are also able to reach commuters at busy MBTA stations, including in Quincy, Bramson said.
“We do really well on Friday at the MBTA stations; folks are on their way home and in a good mood, the weekend is about to start, and they buy a box of cookies to take home,” she said, conceding that the troops often compete among themselves for the popular spots.
“It’s very hard,” she said. “Everybody is vying for key locations on a Friday night. It’s like getting front-row seats at a Red Sox game.”