What the sacked chugger told me

Last week I interviewed the face-to-face fundraiser who was dismissed by development charity EveryChild after he left a folder containing donors’ direct debit details on a street in Norwich city centre.
The incident sparked an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office, which enforces the Data Protection Act.
But when we met, he had a bigger story to tell: a view from the front line of face-to-face fundraising. It was a story of targets, job insecurity, rivalry and frustration as even the best-performing fundraisers worried that a few bad days could cost them their jobs.
This led fundraisers to do things that were “ethically dubious,” he told me, such as pestering and pressuring members of the public and signing up friends and family members, knowing they would cancel their direct debits.
Charities will argue that everyone works to targets these days, and their beneficiaries would lose out if fundraisers didn’t raise funds.
But I think this approach is misguided. Street fundraisers are the first point of contact between a charity and the public, and it only takes a few bad apples to discredit the whole system of face-to-face fundraising which, if done well, can be a good source of income and an effective way of spreading a charity’s message.
The reality is that, like the EveryChild fundraiser, most street fundraisers are unaccustomed to the world of work. They’re young, enthusiastic, idealistic and often deeply committed to a charity’s cause – a great asset for the sector.
But they don’t respond well to being treated as cash cows: this fundraiser told me he felt “expendable” and was treated as “a statistic”. And when things go wrong, they go badly wrong, tarnishing charities in the eyes of people who could otherwise have become valuable donors.
Charities should adopt a different approach: they should lower the targets and reward fundraisers for building good relationships with members of the public, even if those people do not sign up.
They should see fundraisers as ambassadors and awareness-raisers too, perhaps combining ‘prospecting’ with fundraising so fundraisers can offer people the choice of giving immediately or being added to a list of supporters.
Granted, it wouldn’t raise as much money in the short term, and there’s no real guarantee that it would in the long-term either. But happy, committed fundraisers who are less prone to misbehaving – and more inclined to support the charity when they’re older, wealthier and more professional – could be just what the sector needs.
And what of the EveryChild fundraiser? He told me yesterday that he’s got a job at another charity, but not in street fundraising. I expect he’ll do well.