The Public Fundraising Regulatory Association caused controversy in the
sector last week with its announcement of a penalty points system for
organisations whose street fundraisers break the rules.
“Breaking the rules” could be as seemingly trivial as taking
more than three steps alongside a potential donor, or straying outside an
assigned area. More seriously, it could involve aggressive behaviour on the
Read more on Chuggers worried about new PFRA penalties…
Grabbing a quick break in a busy day yesterday, I nipped to the less-than-glamorous destination that is Hammersmith Broadway, a small shopping arcade built around the entrance to the tube station.
During my roughly 100-metre walk through the centre, I was stopped three times.
The first was by a heavily made-up woman trying to sell me a bag of “luxury beauty products”. I said I wasn’t interested, and carried on walking, feeling a bit harrassed.
The second was by a burly bloke asking me to join the local gym. I told him (truthfully) that I was already a member, and carried on.
By this point I was starting to get annoyed that I couldn’t just be left alone to pick up a coffee (and, I admit, concerned that I must’ve looked like I needed both of the products…)
And then I was stopped again. This time it was by a friendly World Vision chugger, asking me to sign up. My response, I admit, was more curt than usual. I certainly didn’t stop to talk to him.
There’s something really wrong with sending chuggers to a busy place like this.
By lumping themselves in with those flogging cheap make-up and gym memberships, charities become just another annoyance to busy shoppers who might otherwise be supportive of their work. Worse, they look like they’re only interested in getting at your wallet, like all the other salespeople in the arcade.
Read more on Chuggers should steer clear of the other salespeople…
This week, the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association launches a 12-week armband trial to improve the image of face-to-face fundraising.
Thirty teams of chuggers are to be headed by team leaders wearing purple armbands with the words â€śteam leaderâ€ť written on them. The PFRA hopes the scheme will improve teamsâ€™ relationships with council officials, town centre managers and the public.
Will it work? Itâ€™s not as if a whole new management structure is being trialled. Chugging teams have had leaders, who act as contacts for officials, for many years so it seems likely that the public will benefit most from the scheme.
Something more obvious than an armband may have been appropriate – perhaps the words â€śteam leaderâ€ť emblazoned on a bib or t-shirt. I am not convinced that passers-by will understand that they should approach the armband wearer with complaints they may have.
But it is a trial. Maybe some members of the public will notice the armband and feel reassured that there is someone in charge. The scheme is unlikely to revolutionise chugging, but at least an effort is being made to make small improvements.
Chugging is not going to disappear – nor should it. So if changes can be made to improve its image and in turn raise more money, I would welcome them.
Read more on Purple armbands will not revolutionise chugging, but they might make a small difference…
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 donâ€™t like chuggers much.
Mick Aldridge, chief executive of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, told the programme it was â€śextraordinaryâ€ť that some donors didnâ€™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 â€“ all regular donors, all well-educated professionals. None of them realised theyâ€™d been signed up by agency staff; none had guessed their signature might be worth more than ÂŁ100 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 â€śintrusive and annoyingâ€ť, another as â€śunpleasant and aggressiveâ€ť. 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.
Itâ€™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 publicâ€™s liking for the whole sector a little.
In my view, itâ€™s time to recognise that in some places, fundraising tactics have gone too far. They need to be reined in a little.
Read more on Charities should make it clearer that chuggers are getting paid…
The question of whether charities have a â€śright to askâ€ť the public for donations has been stirring up controversy lately.
The Institute of Fundraising wants to remind the public that fundraisers â€“ whether they stop you on the street, knock on your door while you are in the middle of dinner or phone you at home â€“ have the right to do so because their beneficiaries need funds.
The aim of its campaign would be to reduce bad feeling among the public towards charity fundraisers, and to give fundraisers a more positive attitude to their work.
The institute is right to address the issue, but I think it is missing the point. Plenty of charity fundraisers know that they have a â€śright to askâ€ť. The trouble is, most of the general public do not feel confident about their own right to say no.
I used to get annoyed and even embarrassed when I was stopped by face-to-face fundraisers. I felt guilty about not signing up. My new approach â€“ of explaining that I do my charitable giving online and will not sign up in any other way â€“ seems to be working well. But the trouble is, I am in a minority.
If people felt able to politely say no without feeling guilty about it, they wouldnâ€™t have such a problem with fundraisers. If they wanted to support the charityâ€™s work, theyâ€™d sign up. And if not, theyâ€™d let the charities spend their time talking to other people who might.
But I suspect this is a message the sector is less keen to promote. People do sign up because they feel guilty, and this is probably more common with face-to-face and door-to-door than with other types of fundraising. If these folk started saying no, charities could be sacrificing cash to appease public opinion.
Is it a price the sector is willing to pay?
Read more on The Right to Ask campaign misses the point…
I never used to stop for chuggers. Before I became Third Sector‘s fundraising reporter, I was one of those annoyed members of the public who walked past quickly, avoided eye contact and mumbled â€śNo, sorryâ€ť to any fundraiser who tried to stop me.
I still maintain that I will never sign up for a direct debit on the street, just like our blogger Felicity Donor. Iâ€™d much rather choose my charity and donate online. But unlike Felicity I now, instead of ignoring chuggers completely, stop to politely explain why thereâ€™s no point in them trying to persuade me.
And so, as I was walking down the high street in Hammersmith the other day, I stopped for the bearded hippy in an EveryChild jacket who waved enthusiastically to me.
He asked me what I did for a living, so I fessed up. â€śIâ€™m a journalist,â€ť I said. â€śI cover charity fundraising for Third Sector magazine.â€ť
But instead of smiling and giving up, as chuggers usually do in response, he was intrigued. â€śItâ€™s a real scandal, you know,â€ť he said, â€śagencies pay chuggers loads of money. I used to earn ÂŁ500 a week from an agency.â€ť
I replied that people were often annoyed about chuggers getting paid, but it’s surely unreasonable to expect fundraisers to stand in the freezing cold all day for nothing.
â€śYeah,â€ť he said, â€śbut thereâ€™s more…â€ť
According to him, thereâ€™s a widespread belief among street fundraisers that if an agency decides it doesnâ€™t want a particular chugger any more – perhaps because that chugger is becoming jaded – the agency will find an easy way to fire them.
â€śTheyâ€™ll put you in a quiet area, with a rubbish team and a difficult charity, then set you high targets. Then they’ll get rid of you if you donâ€™t meet them,â€ť he said.
And becoming jaded was partly why he quit his agency job and started working for EveryChild, which employs its own team of chuggers.
â€śYou never feel any connection to a charity when youâ€™re working for an agency,â€ť he said. â€śYou just move from one to another every week. I never want to work for a profit-making business again.â€ť
He also said he could never imagine himself doing anything other than chugging. â€śIâ€™ve been doing it for four years,â€ť he said. â€śI like fresh air, I like talking to people and I like raising money for a good cause.â€ť
But what about the bad press, and the abuse from the public? Thatâ€™s life, he told me, and you canâ€™t let people grind you down.
And after all that, he let me wander off. He didnâ€™t even ask me to sign up.
Read more on What is it like to be a chugger? I asked one, and this is what he told me…