in Regeneration

Why I don’t like chuggers

I’ve thought long and hard how to say this, but I’ve decided it’s best to be open about it. I don’t like chuggers (charity muggers) or, to give them their proper title, face-to-face fundraisers.

I hinted at this nearly two weeks ago when I complained about their activities on St John’s Road. At the time I said I wanted to mull the subject over before writing at any length. And having mulled it over I’ve decided it is, for me, a fairly binary subject. You either like them, or you don’t. There is no in-between.

This isn’t a misanthropic diatribe against charity. I would like to think I am a generous donor. Like most people I have a few preferred charities, mainly because I have a personal connection with them, but will also offer sporadic donations to a number of causes over the course of the year. Charitable giving has a long and noble history in this country – charities were looking after the poor and unfortunate long before the welfare state was created to replace self-dependence with state-dependence.

I have no issue with chairty, but I do have a problem with the use of commission-paid companies and employees trying to persuade people to sign up direct debits on the street.

In fact, I have a number of problems.

I really don’t like the hard-sell combination of the incredibly worthy cause and the small, small direct debit that makes you feel guilty. To me it smacks of the worst type of pressure selling.

I don’t like the fact that it creates an idea that giving over your personal details – name, address and bank details – to a total stranger is a normal and ordinary thing to do.

I resent being followed by someone to whom I have already said no, but who seems to think a smile and pleading will make me stop and listen to the patter.

And I hate the fact that it makes me feel I have to walk down the street purposely avoiding eye-contact with another human being.

Many people have similar opinions. From conversations I’ve had I know many dislike the chugging risks inherent in a trip to the high street. You can often see many will cross a road (bringing road-safety issues) to avoid being chugged – indeed I will admit a grudging respect for the way chugging teams have adapted their tactics to work in pairs to make such escapes less effective. In addition to all of this I know many traders feel chugging has a detrimental effect on their business.

Obviously, there are those that would put the contrary argument. Many charities obviously feel the benefits they get in terms of cash outweigh any negative perceptions of chugging. I’m sure there are some who might chuggers enhance the street-scene and add to the atmosphere of an area. Thinking of secondary benefits, there’s probably a strong argument that the consistent presence of individuals on a street watching the crowds will help reduce crime in that area.

Chuggers have a trade organisation, the Professional Fundraising Regulatory Association, who will enter ‘voluntary’ agreements with local authorities on things like the times, places and number of chuggers who will be used in a specific area. And this is where my feeling that this is a rather binary issue comes into play. If we were to enter into a voluntary agreement, do I have any right to say that Monday’s shoppers should be unmolested, but that Tuesday’s shoppers are fair game? Or that you can target Balham but not Tooting?

It seems to me that it’s very difficult to say this is something I don’t like – but will allow in moderate amounts. And in any case, it’s a voluntary agreement with little meaning. The PFRA will not accept it if they feel they are losing prime roads or opportunities and the council cannot enforce anything – there is no law regulating this type of fundraising.

This might, however, be changing. Although unlikely, it’s possible there will be a new law before the election allowing local council’s to regulate the use of face-to-face fundraising in their area. And so I would really like to get your input and comments.

I’m aware I might be totally wrong in implying that other, more traditional, forms of fund-raising are enough. Am I totally wrong and just being a miser?

Do you think chuggers enhance or detract from our town centres?

Are there times or places they are appropriate and some they are not?

Leave a Reply

23 Comments

  1. Interesting debate – surprised to see that there is no way of regulating this activity, although it’s illegal to beg on the streets.

    On a personal level, I hate chugging – by it’s very nature an intrusive and pressurising pest, in the busiest areas at the busiest times. Chuggers themselves are brilliantly persuasive – but there’s something unnerving about their maniacal zeal for a cause they’re only likely to espouse for a day or two.

    Of course I don’t like the idea of restricting income for charities, many of whom (but by no means all) provide valuable services. Chugging isn’t their least attractive means – see Channel Five ad breaks during the daytime, some of the charity ads (you, NSPCC) are emotive, over simplistic, manipulative, just plain exploitative.

    But some of the same concerns apply. Who are the chuggers, and the repulsive ads really targetting? Is it fair to expect all of society, including vulnerable individuals, to be harrassed on the street, whatever the cause? I don’t think so. Regulating this kind of activity is likely very difficult – it’ll probably mean the end of chugging. Okay with me.

  2. Problem is, they’re a means to an end. As unattractive and annoying as they are, they’re chugging for a reason and the fact that they’re synonymous with a “good cause” definition means they’re going to be difficult to get rid of.

  3. Totally agree. High pressure guilt-based selling should not be allowed on the streets. Ban them. There are plenty of ways for people to give to charity.

  4. I am sick of chuggers harrrassing me on Regent Street. I wish they were banned. Let them hold buckets to collect coins, if they want to collect for charity. And don’t let them be paid.

  5. Chugging is intrusive and many people don’t like it. Chuggers also harrass and guilt trip people as they walk by. They’ve also been known to lie about their cause. Check on http://www.intelligentgiving.com to find out more information about them.

    This form of fundraising is currently unregulated by local councils because they are exploiting a loophole in the law which controls only cash collections and not direct debits.

    You’ll be relieved to know that this loophole is about to be closed in 2010 and councils will have the power to stop their dubious practices. I would recommend complaining to your local council licensing debt by sending an email in order the them to tighten up these controls on Chugging in 2010. If you don’t complain, they won’t solve this issue.

  6. James, you are totally correct in your last paragraph about a new law allowing councils to control and regulate this hated practice. I have been contactin my mp and even had a letter from the Home Office confirming this. Also the head of my local council licencing department has told me that new rules are on the way. One suggestion was to ‘stop the approach’ and would make them no more offensive then tin rattler.

    While this law will be in place in 2010 (date uncertain), councils won’t use this law unless local people complain and make a fuss about it. I’m trying to encourage as many people to complain as posible via this internet campaign of mine (personal crusade to others).

    Why am I doing this? because I’m sick and tired of being approached four or five times a day (I work near these idiots) and being guilt tripped, insulted, followed down the road and generally harrassed for money. The PFRA are ineffective as they are paid by the very people they claim to regulate so have vested interests. The PFRA will pretend to care but really they are the marketting branch of the chugging industry.

    If you want to get rid of this offensive and intrusive fundraising tactic, just complain to your licencing department.

  7. It’s always pleasing to see that I’m not alone.

    This is an issue I’m keen to push further through the council. Would I be tempting fate with a ‘watch this space’?

  8. Whether you like chuggers or not, these charities save people’s lives and improve the lives of millions of people in this country and all over the world.

    They are hardly alone on our streets with free newspaper and magazine people, people selling paintball deals, gym memberships etc etc. At least, they’re raising money for good causes.

    Surely, we are grown up enough to put up with a little inconvenience so that these charities can do their work?

    Or is the peace and tranquility of our precious lives that much more important than feeding, clothing or housing people or helping those with disabilities lead a better life or finding a cure for a disease or helping the aged population live with dignity or preventing cruelty or abuse to children or animals?

    • A poor defence of chugging, although I’m surprised it took so long to come forward.

      A very simple point I would make is that it is far from the only way for a charity to make money. It is also far from the best way. If you want to donate then go the the charities website: the charity will see far more of the money since they won’t have to pay the salary of a chugger or fees of a professional fund-raising company.

      And would that it were “a little inconvenience”. I’ve been astounded at the strength of feeling this debate has stirred up. And this hasn’t been stirred up because the country is uncharitable, it’s been stirred up because people rightly fed up of having to navigate throngs of chuggers, hassling them, following them and laying guilt trips upon them whenever they try and go about their day-to-day lives.

      Surely we are grown up enough to realise that disliking chugging isn’t the same as disliking charity.

  9. This is such an emotive issue because, let’s face it, when we’re trying to pick up groceries in Sainsbury’s Chuggers get in the way. They persist and even, a little bit, guilt us. We can’t give to them all and we have to say no.

    So, I agree, they are a nuisance.

    My concern here is that the nuisance isn’t just chuggers and, even though we come across them the most, they are not the only problems on the streets. So, I believe that singling out the chuggers is hypocritical. Newspaper distributors, gym-membership and paint ballers have been mentioned. Voluntary collectors can be just as persistant. I’ve been sworn at for not popping something in the tin. No chugger has ever sworn at me in the street. My passage has been blocked on the street by a Big Issue seller. No chugger has ever stopped me. A few year’s ago I watched a marketing lady in Wimbledon stick her clipboard out in front of a mother with a pram to ask what brand of something-or-other she preferred. I’ve seen Chuggers follow people, talk and get in your face. Yes, they’re persistent but they’re, generally, polite.

    But I’m sure there are examples of Chuggers doing all of the above. My point? People on the streets trying to get our attention are going to be intrusive. They will get in the way. Either regulate everybody who wants a little piece of us – voluntary, paid, money-raising or paper pushing – on the street & enforce regulations. If there is sufficient public concern then ban the lot. If there are better ways to raise money than on the streets stop all of them. I’d rather get on with my business.

  10. James,

    I was unaware of your in-depth knowledge of non-profit fundraising. Perhaps you might like to enlighten us with your pearls of wisdom on how charities should be raising money.

    Your argument about where the money goes just doesn’t add up. Are you naive enough to think that other methods of giving don’t cost money? Modern charities are highly professional organisations with, shock horror, people earning salaries for the work they do. Websites can cost thousands of pounds to maintain, let alone build in the first place.
    To begrudge stret fundraisers a small wage for doing what is a very difficult job is harsh to say the least. And they don’t all work for agencies. Many of them are employees of the charity they represent.

    I can think of a hundred things that annoy me a lot more than ‘chuggers’ on a daily basis, and I’m sure you can come up with a few too. Why would you pick on something that takes 3 seconds to walk past if you’re not interested, and does so much good for the world to boot?

  11. I dont mind ‘chugging’ as i am able to deal with my own guilt at ignoring them or saying no thank-you.

    Sadly most people feel affronted at being put in a position where they have to say no to the starving african child or dying dog.

    They prefer to live in a world where those things dont exist and there is no duty on them to improve it.

    Its a western thing and an urban thing – if people are in a bad way they probably deserve it – dont bother me with it.

    People will happily sign up to pay £45 a month for 600 channels of crap on Sky but baulk at the idea of giving £5 a month to Oxfam

    This Daily Mail attitude that someone ruins your day by smiling at you and asking you a question somes up why communities are falling apart – no one wants to talk to their nieghbours. we watch the news and hear that everyone is out to get us.

    also if its not anti-charity why are you not taking action against the gyms, newpaper vendors and now even estate agents who hang around tooting bec station.

  12. in fact i’ve just thought of people far more intrusive than ‘chuggers’ – they come round to your house when you’re cooking your dinner or watching TV after a hard days work, bang on your door and start asking questions:

    Are you going to vote in the up coming elections? have you thought about this, that, etc? did you know labour are doing this and if you vote for them the BNP will get in?

    please ban cllrs/politicians from door knocking/flyering – i can just go to their website if i want to find out about them after all!

    • Some great comments in support of chuggers, very close together.

      First off, let’s get rid of this argument that this is the only way charities can raise money. The Chief Exec of the PFRA tried the same argument on Today. It isn’t the only way they raise money. If it were, charities would quite simply not have existed twenty years ago. Did we really have chuggers in Victorian times, don’t recall them featuring in any Dickens I read… yet somehow charities existed and did some excellent work. And this idea that an existing website is as expensive as a £10ph chugger, who can expect one sign-up an hour if they are lucky, of whom around half will cancel within a year? Nonsense, once set up a website has a fairly marginal running cost.

      Second, this isn’t about people who will respect a polite ‘no’ – as free paper distributors, Big Issue sellers, gyms, paintballers and all others seem to manage. This is about aggressive sales tactics, including the use of closed questions to engage a sales pitch, making comments about mothers’ unborn children, pulling headphones and phones from the ears of passers-by and chasing people who have already indicated they are not interested. Of course, we are told, this is the small minority – but it seems that an awful lot of people would happily support a ban on chugging and can provide similar anecdotes. It’s strange how this small minority have managed to be seen by the vast majority of the public.

      And third, I’m deeply offended by the suggestion that political canvassers (of any party) are anything like chuggers. I imagine anyone involved in politics would share my feelings. It also shows that you haven’t actually a clue how canvassing is done, and I suspect this is because you don’t actually have people coming around that often. After all, it’s such an annoyance it took you ten minutes to think about it after your first comment.

      I’m delighted that you (both?) have such positive experiences of chuggers. Sadly, every day, thousands of people have overwhelmingly negative experiences of chuggers – and that’s why we are pressing for action.

  13. Your response James, particuarly with regards to political canvasers, smacks of hypocricy, suggesting that someone questoning the usefulness of canvasers doesn’t understand.

    I would argue that, similarly, you don’t have a clue about fundraising, and most of your comments would offend the average fundraiser. None of the practices that you have suggested are condoned by the industry. In fact, they are all contrary to the code of practice. Much like in any walk of life there are those who don’t follow the rules. That, however, does not make their behaviour the rule.

    I genuinely don’t believe that there is this huge swathe of negative opinion about street fundraisers (but would be delighted for you to show me the evidence of the vast majority you suggest). Merely a small, vocal group rallied by people like yourself. Someone so blinded by your own opinion that you can’t believe that two people might speak up in defence of fundraisers within a 10 minute period.

    The only point that I will concede to you is the cost of running a website. I’m sure that you will know how much one costs, seeing as you have your own. However you ignore the considerable, regular investment that marketing and driving traffic to a site requires. Web media space is not cheap, or particularly succesful in converting visitors in to donors. As someone who runs a donor recruitment programme, I can vouch for the success of street fundraising over any other method that we currently use, including our website.

  14. I think that chuggers are great, yeah they can be harassing sometimes but these times need to be reported as I know for a fact that charities do not want this to be the way they are seen on the high street. Secondly the money they raise is so important that we can’t afford to have them banned. Imagine if there was 30% less money available to the Red Cross they would be able to 30% less work and therefore peoples lives are at risk.

    Simply put if you have a negative issue with a fundraiser complain to the company or charity. Don’t ban them as that will ruin it for all the people who are polite not pushy and really care about what they do.

  15. Apologies, my reference to multiple pro-chugging posts in quick succession was meant to be ironic, since the PFRA assumed that two councils expressing concerns could only be a conspiracy. I appreciate that the written word is not always the best medium for an ironic joke.

    The fact is that although such practices are meant to be the exception, they seem to be the rule – and not just in Wandsworth. It’s because of this the issue has taken off, with Ben Goldacre championing #chuggerstop and national media continuing the debate. Why? I don’t know. It might be that the training is the problem, or that there isn’t sufficient regulation. But a simple Google will reveal no shortage of websites from across the country expressing the same sentiment.

    And to quickly nail this ‘it’s the only way’ argument. In 2008 the PFRA reckoned that around £70million was raised this way. The NVCO reckons total giving in 2008 was £10.6 billion. To pretend that the charitable sector as a whole is dependent on chugging is a nonsense. I won’t pretend it’s not a lot of money, but it’s still less than 0.7% of the total.

  16. Apologies for not spotting your joke, very funny. I guess I missed the PFRA’s comment.

    You must remember though that street fundraising is used as a source of recruiting new supporters, not gaining further donations from existing ones. Yes there are cheaper ways of fundraising, but supporters will not give forever and those that are lost need to be replaced with new supporters, otherwise those remaining will have even more demand for their support, which is unsustainable.

    Yes, in an ideal world there isn’t a charity that would forgoe the expense of recruitment just to hang on to what they have already. But we don’t live in that world sadly.

  17. My fault, it was in a different post – I know I’m the only avid reader of this blog, but sometimes forget I’m the only avid reader!

    Your comment (and another discussion I’m having about Royal Mail) makes me wonder if maybe it’s the agencies that are the problem, since they are – effectively – employing mercenary chuggers. Perhaps if directly employed, they would focus more on making sure they didn’t harm the charity’s reputation and possibly even enhanced it by what happened on the street.

    It is a fascinating subject, and I won’t pretend I don’t see the points behind the pro-chugging argument. But obviously my job, and the council’s job, is to look after the residents and businesses, and chugging clearly has an effect on both as people alter their routes to avoid being chugged.

    Obviously we won’t persuade each other since, I suspect, we represent different camps in the argument. But there are two things I would say:

    1. This is a big issue to a lot of people, while we can quibble about the numbers, I would say enough to mean there needs to be a serious look at the training and tactics of chuggers and how they are regulated. Until that happens, it won’t go away as an issue.
    2. If that doesn’t happen, I think charities themselves will start considering the cost of chugging. While it might bring in short term revenue, it is at a cost to their reputation. Several people have told me how they stopped giving to a particular charity because they were chugged by them – and these had been fairly substantial direct donors, definitely in excess of the annual direct debit. I think that will be a growing trend unless there is change.
  18. Fair enough James. I can only emphasize that the vast majority of my employees interactions With the public end favourably, whether there has been a donation or not

    Anyone experiencing any of the issues you’ve mentioned should certainly contact the charity concerned. In our case it will be dealt with very seriously.

    • Obviously I have no idea of how your company operates – or indeed which it is or which charities it represents – but am happy to accept that your company is not one of those that causes problems. If anything, it’s as much in your interests as a reputable company to sort out the problem chuggers, as it is in the interests of local businesses or residents.

      I’d like to add that I’ve certainly appreciated our little exchange on here (more than one of the other exchanges on this topic I could mention).

  19. Likewise James, you’re not quite as unreasonable as I was expecting!

    I work for an NPO by the way and all our fundraisers work direct. We don’t use agencies, they just don’t suit our model. As such we’re very concious of ensuring our reputation is kept intact.

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