Charities should make it clearer that chuggers are getting paid

The Newsnight programme about chugging last week found nothing whatsoever to surprise anyone in the charity sector.

All of it was pretty common knowledge, easy to turn up, much as we might expect. But it did raise a valid point: the general public don’t like chuggers much.

Mick Aldridge, chief executive of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, told the programme it was “extraordinary” that some donors didn’t realise some of their money was being spent paying face-to-face fundraisers.

To check how aware donors are, I carried out a totally unscientific survey of my friends and family – all regular donors, all well-educated professionals. None of them realised they’d been signed up by agency staff; none had guessed their signature might be worth more than £100 to these staff.

Most did understand that charities needed to spend money on fundraising staff, and thought 25p or 30p of each pound was a pretty reasonable ratio. But they also said that, for reasons that go beyond the cost, they deeply disliked chuggers.

One described them as “intrusive and annoying”, another as “unpleasant and aggressive”. A third said that Moorgate in London was so full of chuggers that being there was like running a gauntlet of gladiators.

For a long time now, charities have looked on as fundraising agencies engaged with the public on their behalf. But the sector is storing up trouble for tomorrow.

It’s undeniable that chuggers, in the medium-term, raise cash. But in the process they risk playing fast and loose not just with the reputation of the charities they represent but also with that of the whole sector. Getting chugged can be a deeply unpleasant experience and each time it happens it lowers the public’s liking for the whole sector a little.

In my view, it’s time to recognise that in some places, fundraising tactics have gone too far. They need to be reined in a little.