charities, Germany

A visit from Die Johanniter

If you count both tours, Bill and I have been living together in Germany for over five years.  Sometimes, life here still manages to be surprising, even when you’re at home minding your own business.

Yesterday, after I walked the dogs, I did some housework and made lunch.   As is customary for me, after ditching my mud stained pants and dirty hiking boots, I got comfortable by putting on my favorite nightie.  I have a tendency to do that, especially during the cold, wet, dark months.  I figure if I’m not planning to see anyone, I might as well ditch the bra and be comfortable.

I was about halfway through lunch when the doorbell rang.  In retrospect, I probably should have ignored the bell, but if I had done that, I would still be ignorant about today’s topic.  Besides, I wasn’t sure if the person ringing the bell was someone important (and they almost never are, are they?).  So I put down my burrito and went to the door, braless and in my nightgown.  If you want me to look presentable, make an appointment.

Standing before me was a tall, attractive woman with curly brown hair and an impeccably made up face.  She was wearing a red jacket and an identification tag.  Her appearance was very professional.  Of course, she immediately started talking when I opened the door.

I interrupted her and said, “I don’t speak German.”  A lot of times, that gets door to door people to go away, but sometimes it doesn’t.  It didn’t in this case.  My visitor switched to very good English.

I remember she said, “Have you heard of the Red Cross?”

Of course I have.  It’s a very well known humanitarian organization.

Before I had a chance to respond, she said “I am from Die Johanniter, which is kind of like the Red Cross.”  She listed all of the good things this organization does: providing meals to the elderly, teaching young people first aid, search and rescue with dogs or on horseback, assisting refugees, services for disabled people, and on and on.

It sounded like a fine organization to me.  Indeed, from what I’ve read, Die Johanniter does good work that is of value to the community in countries throughout Europe and the Middle East.  However, in order to do good work, it needs money.  That’s what brought this visitor to my doorstep yesterday afternoon.

So my visitor was going door to door asking for what she called “donations”.  However, instead of collecting money at the door, which she said was too dangerous, she was asking people to sign up for “memberships”.  It involved a monthly bank transfer of whatever amount we wanted to contribute.  She was quick to tell me that if we ever wanted to cancel the donation, all we had to do was email.

At first, I thought this sounded okay.  One of the things I like about living in Germany is that there is help for the citizens and asking for help is not as shameful as it is in the United States.  I like the idea of community organizations designed to aid those who need help.  I also love that getting medical help in Germany doesn’t mean that one will end up bankrupt.  And, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I think it’s important to provide assistance to countries experiencing disasters.  Die Johanniter reportedly does all of these things.

However, I do not handle paying our German bills.  I basically know how it’s done, but it’s not my job in our household; it’s Bill’s.  Moreover, I didn’t think it would be right to sign up for something like this without talking to Bill about it.  So I asked the woman if she had any literature I could read.  She reluctantly handed me a very nice color brochure, in German, of course.  She said she’d be back later to talk to Bill, after he came home from work.  Then I went back to my burrito, which had only gotten a little cooler in the meantime.

I looked up Die Johanniter online and discovered a well-produced Web site in English.  It’s a Protestant run organization that is affiliated with the Alliance of the Orders of Saint John of Jerusalem.  I also found the Facebook page for Germany’s Die Johanniter and checked out the reviews.  Honestly, that was kind of what turned me off from donating to this organization.

I noticed that there were many one star reviews from people who were upset about the way Die Johanniter does business.  Quite a few people wrote that they felt the door to door model was offensive, especially since they got a lot of elderly people to sign up for monthly donations.  One woman wrote that she was offended because she Die Johanniter apparently demands a minimum number of donations per year.  I read on and found a few comments noted below…

But there were many more five star reviews, which seemed to have to do with the actual services provided.

It occurred to me that we came close to having to move last year.  Then I remembered all of the horror stories about quitting monthly debits in Germany.  I also don’t like the door to door high pressure collections model they used and wouldn’t want to reward it, even if the money is going to a very good cause.  I would much rather donate to a charity because I want to, not because I feel pressured.

I emailed Bill about the encounter.  He initially would have been okay with donating very generously– actually much more generously than what they’d requested.  After I did more research, I talked to a local friend, who also informed me about Malteser International, which is the Catholic version of this charity.  Malteser also canvases neighborhoods seeking people willing to make monthly donations.  My German friend candidly told me that she doesn’t like how these charitable organizations go door to door “begging” for donations, even though they’re for a good cause.  Apparently, a lot of charities do this in Germany, although Die Johanniter is the first we’ve personally encountered.

Ultimately, I decided it would be better if we didn’t sign up, and Bill agreed.  He got home from work last night, exhausted because there’s a conference going on and he had to stay late.  It was about 7:00pm when he was finally able to take off his tie and sport coat.  I told him the woman from Die Johanniter would be back to talk to him.  He looked at his watch and thought he was in the clear because it was dark outside and getting pretty late.  However, she did show up at about 8:00pm, which seemed a trifle late to me.  I was in the shower.  Bill told her he wasn’t interested… but, like me, was impressed by how professional and official she was.  (ETA: Bill told me last night he kind of caved and said he would sign up, but he has to call the woman because he didn’t have his bank info.  Hopefully, she won’t show up here again because he has no plans to call.)

I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a tiny bit guilty… which I’m sure is the whole point of the door to door method and the pressure to sign up right then and there.  I noticed our visitor was a little reluctant to let me talk to Bill about it.  Oh well.  I’m sure we’ll have another chance to “donate” if we stay here much longer.


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