Why won’t charities defend street fundraising?

Street fundraising has been having a bit of a moment in the mainstream media.

A Sunday Telegraph journalist went undercover and exposed evidence of potential breaches of chugging rules by a fundraising agency.

More recently, Lord Hodgson’s review of the Charity Act and recommendations on fundraising led to more headlines screaming for a ‘crackdown on chuggers’.

At Third Sector we’ve been keen to give the sector’s response to this furore over a fundraising technique that is said to make £130m a year for charities.

But there has been a real reluctance from charities, even those that use the technique and have spoken out about its benefits in the past, to comment.

The lack of charities willing to be quoted led one reader to question our neutrality in reporting face-to-face issues.

Research by the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association found that street fundraisers have to approach an average of 180 people just to get one sign-up.

It feels like I’m clocking up a similar number of ‘asks’ trying to find a head of fundraising to talk about street fundraising.

Surely contributing to an open and informed debate about this type of fundraising and its future is an important cause?

Hodgson says “the problem with ‘chugging’ is that it is seen as, and can be, aggressive”. He goes on to say there is anecdotal evidence that it can discourage people from going into nearby shops or even going to high streets at all.

His report recommends giving councils greater power to control and therefore potentially reducing street fundraising. But he also favours maintaining self-regulation through the PFRA’s site management agreements.

I’m not a fundraiser, but all these things seem to pose some interesting questions about the technique and its future.

Maybe charities are afraid of being attacked by an angry pack of Telegraph and Mail readers. Or maybe I haven’t asked the right people.

It just seems like now is the time to speak out and confront concerns about its use, discuss how the technique is evolving and how it can be improved. Street fundraising has long had detractors, but at the moment they’re drowning out proponents and making balanced coverage a disheartening uphill struggle.

  • john newlandsd

    I was stopped by a young woman who chased me along the street, stroked my arm and said ‘come on honey it won’t take a minute’ the organisation she represents is campaigning to end child prostitution. Companies sell timeshares very successfully using similar tactics but it’s not where the voluntary sector should be.

  • Daniel Coleman

    Firstly I would like to point out that charities are not the only organisation to raise funds “on the street”, the RAC, AA, SKY TV, and also various window replacement business use the street to raise awareness and sign up’s, also the NHS Blood and Transplant service use this method to sign people up to donate blood and raise awareness with good results.

    So why the reluctance for charities to speak about an important fundraising tool, this is both a complicated and yet simple answer, the simple answer is that with so many charities competing for the important donation they can’t afford to be seen going against public opinion.

    The complicated answer is whether or not there is a “huge” backlash against charities that use chuggers or if it is the media once again hyping up a story, putting in an undercover reporter to report on the poor practice but not giving out the instances of good practice, I will leave people to make up their own mind.

    However I do believe the current practice of flooding a town or city high street with lots of people and being asked 3 or more times in a short stretch of time does turn people off, therefore I think the sector needs to look at the organisations listed at the top and see how they do it, and what standards are place for their staff, after all they have been doing it for years and it must work or else they would not do it.

    • John Burton

      I have long been a critic of chugging, because I see it as not only inefficient, but also giving charities a bad name. Donating to a charity should be an entirely voluntary operation, with no coercion. I suggested in a letter published in Third Sector this week, that chuggers should disclose how much they make from a sign up.

  • Romaine Maret

    Quote – “I have long been a critic of chugging, because I see it as not only inefficient, but also giving charities a bad name. Donating to a charity should be an entirely voluntary operation, with no coercion”

    I totally aggree, people should not be coersed into donating money to charity… I genuinely think that some fundraising organisations are guilty of not giving their volunteers enough support or training, and those that are paid are usually employed by a fundraising agency on behalf of charities… which leads to a lack of quality training and support in favour of ‘the more workers we have, the greater number of sign ups we have’ (and the more money we get per sign up). In my opinion, tighter controls may be needed to control this problem.

    I am however in favour of street fundraising; there are many members of the public that would be happy to give a donation if they were asked, but simply dont think to go out of their way to find out how. If asked nicely and their decision not to give is respected, i dont see a problem with it.

    maybe there should be a ‘no chuggers please’ badge that people could wear?!

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