Edinburgh: Ban Chuggers

No one likes chuggers. Everyone has a preferred tactic of dealing with them. (Mine, if I can’t dodge them completely, is to say flatly and at once “I never give out my bank details on the street” and walk on. Occasionally they try to argue with me, but I’m not stopping for that.)

Andrew Napier claimed in 2002:

I’ve found that humour helps. ‘Do you want to hear my joke for the day?’ usually gets people to stop. If they listen to my lame, cheesy joke, they’ll usually hear me out about the charity as well.

Of course there’s a bit of flirting sometimes, but it’s a matter of definitions. If I talk to a guy, it’s conversation; if I talk to a girl it could be called flirting. Although I did go out for coffee with someone once…

Stavvers’ reaction in 2011:

“You’ve got a pretty smile,” another says with a creeping grin. “Come and talk to me.” He tries to grab my arm. I walk away, as fast as I can.

These interactions happen on a regular basis. Often it’s the usual, the leery-beery tiresome street harassment of daily life, the drunks, the creeps, the men who want to make women feel uncomfortable.

Sometimes, they are not. The men in the incidents outlined above are wearing bibs and told to harass women in the street by major charities. The techniques employed are identical. The objectifying icebreaker. The assertion that they “only want to talk”. The unwanted contact, the grabbing, the following.

The only differences between “chugging” and bog-standard street harassment is the bib, and the fact that you know exactly what it is that the chugger wants.

In Glasgow, from the end of April, chuggers will be restricted to 13 locations (half in the city centre, half elsewhere), a maximum of five at any one location on any one day, and will be out chugging only two days a week at any one location. The timetable and locations are listed here, to give you fair warning and blank them. This is the first regulatory agreement signed with the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) in Scotland.

Councillor Gordon Matheson, Leader of Glasgow City Council, said:

“The issue of street-fundraisers is a source of annoyance to many shoppers and visitors to Glasgow. However we recognise that charities have the legal right to fundraise on our streets, but we must ensure that people working, living and visiting Glasgow are not inconvenienced by this practice.”

But really – is there any reason to tolerate chuggers at all?

A former chugger who wanted to remain anonymous told the Telegraph it was a lucrative job:

“I got £7 an hour, plus £30 for every sign-up you got after the eighth, which meant that the better fund-raisers were on a stupendously good wage. I did door-to-door so we got driven to various locations and basically had to harass people in their own homes. We were meant to average two sign-ups a day to keep our job.

She said they were given lessons in “objection handling” and taught to avoid direct questions. She added that they received pay and bonuses, even if direct debits were later cancelled — leaving the charities out of pocket.

On a discussion board in Ireland, a poll on What’s the worst job – Chugger or Call Centre Worker? Chugger is ahead by 30 points.

On a discussion board in Reading, a regular points out:

If nothing else, the day/week-in, day/week-out appearance of these “chuggers” dilutes any sense of giving, or, indeed, any realism of need….rendering them collectively as more of a parasitic hazard to be avoided as a genuine cause for our support to be embraced.

I also can’t help but feel that some genuine charities have been duped into accepting and paying up-front for the services of “chugger” networks, in the same way that some companies have fallen foul of the discounted vouchers schemes that claim to “attract” custom by virtue of shoving discounted goods & services into punters’ otherwise uninterested faces.

It’s wrong. It’s predatory. And it’s time it was stopped.

The PFRA claims that “as much as £45m” is given “on the street” every year, and apparently Amnesty International says they expect to sign up around a quarter of their new members this year through street-to-street fundraising. It’s of course advantageous to a charity to have someone committed to a monthly direct debit, however small, because that is both likely to continue and the charity may be able to leverage the small debt into a larger one by direct fundraising techniques – if you give your details to the chugger for the charity they’re currently doing, you can expect phone calls and letters asking for more from then on until well after you cancel the payments.

But chugging is expensive. An unsuccessful chugger will get the sack (three sign-ups a day or you’re out): a successful chugger, a good predator, will bring in regular sign-ups and get paid well – ultimately by the charity.

In January this year a Word blogger Glenbervie stopped on Princes Street to ask a man with a sign saying, ‘Do you want a fun job?’ and found the financial details behind the chugger:

I suppose you get chuggers to go out and accost the punters but if they prove no good at it after a few days – fewer than three a day sign-ups – they get binned. Presumably they spend the first two or three hours of a shift propositioning people like crazy to try and meet the daily target, then they can slow down, safe in the knowledge they still have a job tomorrow. Checking with employment law basics, you’re only entitled to a week’s notice of termination of employment after a month’s service, so it’s perfectly legal for the company employing the chugger to decide after a few days, or a week or whatever, that he or she isn’t up to it and, ‘Don’t come back tomorrow.’ After a month (and up to two years’ service) the statutory minimum is a week’s notice.

I’ve never had abuse thrown at me for walking on, ignoring the chugger, but in fact I can see how someone who knows they’re one sign-up away from being fired gets desperate enough to literally try to block passers-by from moving until they get the form filled in. Not that this excuses it. But no one should be working in a job where it’s effectively a requirement of your work that you become a good predator, a con artist for charity: no one goes out for a walk or to go to the shops, thinking “Before I get home I want to have given my bank details away to a total stranger!”

Chugging does nothing to improve the image of that charity in the public mind: while the chugger may have memorised a few standard answers, they’re unlikely to be able to talk about the charity’s mission in any depth.

Puffles the dragon fairy asserts that turning the questions on the chugger is the way to go:

“How much did your charity spend last year?”

“What are your charity’s current cash reserves? (i.e. are you hoarding cash or are you spending it?)”

“Give me some examples – case studies if you like – of projects where your charity has made a real difference”

“Give me a ballpark figure of what your charity spent on administration last year, and what percentage of donations did this make up?”

“What are the salaries of your charity’s top executives?”

I can be a real beast if I want to!

You can’t fundraise for free: you’ve always got to spend money to get money. Charities that need to raise money must set aside a fundraising budget. Is spending that on chugger agencies really the most advantageous use of that money?

Which? investigative researcher Dan Moore has a qualified No:

Back in December, Which? Money investigated the charity sector. You could say we were critical of some forms of giving, with especial ire reserved for charity canvassers. Since then I’ve received numerous correspondence from readers who’ve criticised the article for being ‘anti-charity’.

That’s not right. Which? criticises the banks all the time, that doesn’t mean we don’t like money. The point is that if there is a lousy operation out there, we want to highlight it for consumers and hopefully encourage it to change its ways.

Glasgow Council has introduced rules and restrictions that chuggers have to conform to. But why should we tolerate this at all? Ban chuggers from Edinburgh completely. No more demanding direct debits on the street.

(Scottish council elections: Thursday 3 May 2012. You can write to your councillors via WriteToThem. You can find out if your MP or MSP has ever spoken on “public fundraisers” or chuggers via www.theyworkforyou.com/. Everything you need to know about getting registered to vote at www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.)

4 Comments

Filed under Charities

4 responses to “Edinburgh: Ban Chuggers

  1. ex-mug

    it seems to be doorstep chugger season at the moment, i’ve been annoyed at my front door twice in the last two days – hopefully the ‘no cold callers’ sign i’ve just put up will cut them off at the pass. i find street chuggers easy to bypass but it’s harder to get rid of someone once you’ve answered the door, which you have to in case it’s a genuine caller (we live in a flat so can’t see who’s at the door), especially since they launch into the spiel (‘where’s your accent from?’ and ‘do you have kids’ seem to be popular tactics at the moment) without just asking the simple question of whether you’re interested in signing up.

  2. ex-mug

    near newhaven. another one went through the building just after i posted that, he respected the sign and didn’t ring our buzzer though.

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