Do you think councils should ban chuggers?

by , Lead Investigative Researcher Money 11 January 2012
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Chuggers, charity canvassers to put it differently, are under fire again. A London council is seeking to ban them outright. But are chuggers really committing ‘legal robbery’ as one Islington councillor claims?

Charity worker on high street

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.

Islington council plans to ban chuggers

When it comes to chuggers, the issue is more complicated than bank bashing. Charities do a marvellous job, raising billions for all manner of good causes. It’s just that some of the processes employed leave a lot to be desired.

This explains why councils around the country have been using byelaws to ban chuggers, with the latest being Islington in north London. Islington Councillor Paul Convery has said:

‘There are too many, they hassle people and they are in your face. It seems to be legal robbery in some ways and it gives charities a bad name. The time has come to tackle this nuisance.’

Does he have a point? Should councils have a right to prevent charity workers from approaching people in public places?

For and against chuggers

The pro-chug camp will argue that if they didn’t door-step shoppers on the streets, good causes would lose out to the tune of millions of pounds. Without chuggers, they argue, thousands of people who might be willing to give to charity won’t, because it’s not at the forefront of their mind.

The anti-chug brigade resents what they see as an infringement of their rights to go about their business unheeded. They bristle at having to dodge eager canvassers who bound up to you, and lay a guilt trip on anyone who isn’t willing to sign away a regular donation on the spot.

The arguments are strong on both sides. I could sit on the fence and point out that chuggers have to follow a set of rules that stops them from hassling people. Indeed, a polite ‘no’ should be enough to ward approaching chuggers off. But if I did that you’d probably stop reading.

The truth is that I can’t walk down a busy high street without running the gauntlet of chuggers. It’s tiresome at best, and a little intimidating at worst.

Should charities mystery shop chuggers?

Giving to charity should be a choice, not an obligation. Charity workers should respect people’s right to walk on by, not stop and give them a hearing. There may be rules in place governing how charity workers should conduct themselves, but they’re clearly not working.

I reckon that the charities should do more, get out on the streets and see how their employees conduct themselves, before more councils take action and chugging is banned across the country. If they reign in their enthusiastic workers, they may find more people are willing to give them a chance.

Do you think councils should ban chuggers?

Yes - chuggers are a nuisance (54%, 234 Votes)

No - chuggers are essential to raise money (32%, 140 Votes)

If the rules are tightened, chuggers can stay (14%, 63 Votes)

Total Voters: 437

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19 comments

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tpoots

On a lunch break the other week a certain Charity had their staff out trying to raise funds. Now, being in London, I’m well used to the rigmarole of dodging the 10 or so I’d encounter on my way to buy my pasty but this Charity in question had crossed the line.

They had their staff out on the streets, stopping people to guilt them into donating. One phrase I heard was “Lovely hair madam, where did you get it done? Unfortunately some don’t have the same luxury of hair care as you” and to the man eating his lunch: “Is that tasty Sir?”…you can guess where that conversation went.

I completely understand the need to fund-raise but I honestly believe this is the completely wrong way to do it. Fair enough in telling people about your charity and the good that you’re doing, but don’t make them feel guilty (or in my case, outraged) as a result.

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David Ramsay

I thought that this type of activity is now illegal!

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tpoots

That’s what I thought David but it’s hard to keep track of.

Someone told me not so long ago that it’s also illegal for those with charity pots to ‘shake them’ as it’s intimidating – that doesn’t seem to stop the guy who stands outside my local supermarket!

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Mikhail

Are you sure that it was a charity? …More likely they were fundraisers …those are completely out of control.

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tpoots

Unfortunately it was a charity indeed, for children.

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Sophie Gilbert

I’ve had it with chuggers and running the gauntlet of Princes Street (Embra) on a Saturday afternoon. I never go there at that time anymore. Or should I wear a special tee-shirt saying, “Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity, when I give I give myself” (Walt Whitman).

What is especially insulting about what tpoots describes is the assumption that you don’t already give.

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Nikki Whiteman

Agreed – the assumption that if you don’t give specifically to that charity at that time really irks me. Different people have different ways of giving: my Mum is a big fan of sponsoring people, so will generally save up charity money so that when one of her friends runs a marathon or grows a moustache she can be generous in her sponsorship. I prefer to choose one or two organisations that I have a real belief in, and follow their work closely – not just giving money but joining their campaigns, etc.

I think choosing how you give to charity is a really important and personal thing, and not the sort of decision that I want to take when I’m rushing through a shopping centre.

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Anon the mouse

But what are the rule on the clipboard canvessers? And they work on commission so follow you down the street too.

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nfh

Recently while walking down Cheapside in the City, I was on a mobile phone call; a chugger approached me and had the nerve to try to interrupt my phone call in order to extract money from me. These people have no manners and I welcome any attempt to ban them.

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Mike Smith

I make a point of not giving to any charity who harassed and intimidates people in the streets ever. Virtually all the big national corporate charities have now been black listed so will only consider local charities now after I’ve researched them. I no longer trust this industry. Too many greedy third parties and charity workers getting very rich off the back of peoples donations which I find disgusting.

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Dan Moore

Love the Walt Whitman quote. It does seem that chuggers are lacking support. Are there any charity canvassers out there with a counter-view?

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Islington Chamber

Its becoming an epidemic of sorts along many of the main roads in Islington. Though we want to continue to champion charitable giving there are better ways of doing it than using “chuggers” who seem to undermine the brands of the very charities that they are supposed to be helping.

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Lucy

Frankly if you want to avoid them you can.

Just having the charity out there – raising public profile – means that income will rise. That can only be a good thing.

I really think that Dan is being far too personal and – for a which? article – seems to have done very little research about the positive effect street fundraising has for the charities.

This sort of article is just encouraging people to be abusive to street fundraisers and no one deserves that in their workplace. It is encouraging public bullying of people because of the job they do.

It feels like dan has just had a stressful day and has come home and vented about something he knows very little about and blackened a whole industry.

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A Chugger

I have been a street fundraiser for 10 years. I have never worked for or received any form of commission for the work that I do. I get a modest but better than minimum wage hourly rate (£8.50), I work out side in all weather and take horrendous amounts of abuse off people who all think that they are better than me because of the job that I do. I don’t do this because it is all I can do, or easy money, or so I can flirt with members of the opposite sex (I am happily married with 2 children) I do it because I love it and I know that at the end of every day a charity is able to help more people than they were when I got up that morning. I feel passionate about the work done by all the charities I have ever represented and would not work for a charity that I did not believe in. I used to work for an agency but now work in-house for a charity that gets more from street fundraising than they do from any other income stream.

I can honestly say that the vast majority of people that I meet daily are lovely to me and are grateful for the work that I do. Unfortunately the people with negative views are the ones with the loudest
voices and the ones most eager to impose their will onto others.

I know that street fundraisers can be inconvenient. I am truly sorry for all bad experiences that you have all had. For me street fundraising is about something bigger than individual, personal experiences. If somebody can prove to me conclusively, and by that i mean with supporting evidence, that street fundraising doesn’t work, never has or will work and that it has all been for nothing , just about people being greedy. Then I will hang up my clip board and you can all go about your business without my polite attempts to interrupt you.

Until then, I apologise in advance for the inconvenience and hope to speak to you all very soon so that you can have a positive experience of this amazing way of raising money.

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Karim

It’s always struck me as problematic that the chuggers are run by a separate company and not the charity in question. This means their aims are totally focused on signup numbers, as this is where their money comes from, with little awareness of their role as a representative of the charity. The rare times I’ve encountered chuggers who work directly for the charity, there’s been a really noticeable difference in quality, tact and approach. They are much happier to just talk to you about the issues and other ways you can help even if it’s clear you’re not getting your wallet out, which is much better for the charity in both the long and short run and less annoying for passerby.

I think having a ‘middle man’ company is also something that puts people off in and of itself. Most people are aware that chuggers are contractors rather than employees of whatever organisation’s logo happens to be emblazoned on their jacket on that particular day, and this makes them seem inauthentic and only in it for the money, especially as they don’t ever advertise or even mention their own company, its ethics or profit margins. Someone harassing me in the street on behalf of Greenpeace is one thing. Someone harassing me about Greenpeace so that they can skim a healthy profit off whatever I choose to give feels kinda deceitful and not a little slimy.

I don’t think chugging should be banned outright, but I think the industry needs an overhaul and the role of third party companies needs to be examined.

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Kristof11

I’ve been working in professional fundraising for almost 7 years, and while you raise an interesting point Karim, it really is about value for the charity and them guaranteeing a return on their investment in difficult economic times (we guarantee a return of 4 times their initial investment and we are governed by strict quality guidelines). This is why my company exists, to provide the best value for a charity to allow it to continue to do its work. At no time have I ever earned commission for my work and in the same manner of A Chugger, who I suspect works for a similar company to mine, I am dedicated wholeheartedly and passionately to the charities that I work for (having seen first hand the difference that the public make having agreed to donate). I appreciate that what we do is not for everyone, and with every industry there are people who can create a negative impression and give it a bad impression. However each week we receive numerous messages from members of the public who have had incredibly positive experiences and wish to pass on their praise and regards to our fundraisers for their passion and commitment. It is worth remembering that we are an extremely visible profession and therefore perhaps more prone to criticism. In articles like this- and I’m sorry Dan you’ve pretty much admitted that it is subjective and under-researched “But if I did that you’d probably stop reading”- you simply hear from the minority of people to whom this sort of interaction does not appeal, and as usual this paints us all with the same brush.

I hate the term “chugger”. I’ve been mugged myself- and a friend and colleague was seriously injured in a similar assault last year, so the term comes across as glib and actually somewhat insulting. I often feel that in the face of this sort of criticism that I and others that work in my industry have to try to “reclaim” the word. Then, when we are (regularly) invited to visit the incredible charities that we fundraise for, and meet the people that have been and are affected in a positive way by the work that we have done, I know that what my colleagues and I do on a daily basis is tremendously important, and that this term “chugger” could not be further from the truth. What inspres me is that for every person out there that may have had a negative experience with a fundraiser (and for that I’m very sorry and would welcome the chance to speak to you personally to correct that), there is quite literally another person who that morning probably had no idea that they were going to take a couple of minutes out to speak to us and may never even have heard of the charity we are fundraising for, and they will begin a long-term, regular donation to the charity that may last them for the rest of their lives, and that is no small thing. As far as I understand it from the charites that we work on behalf of, fundraisers are an essential part of the work charities are able to carry out, and long may they be able to continue in their work.

Up until recently we had ‘chuggers’ knocking on our front door at least once a week, typically at the most inconvenient time (baby in the bath). Anyway our street and those around us are now part of a ‘no uninvited callers’ trial. It has been brilliant and so far seems to have worked.

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Mike

I lost my patience and ended up swearing at one today. They worked for a national charity and claimed they were regulated by the local council, even going so far as suggesting I was wrong when I pointed out that councils don’t have any legal powers to regulate chugging and it was self-regulated. I was then reprimanded for using the word “chugger” even when I reminded them that it was a term endorsed by their regulator (PFRA).

It’s typical of the chugging industry. In house or outsourced it actually makes very little difference. Very few of them actually know the rules they operate under or don’t seem to appreciate that being asked if I’m interested in charity “X” for the fifth time that day it starts to become tiresome.

I’ve read the claims of positive experiences. However this does not negate the fact that, no matter how polite or well intentioned, repeated chugging in an area does border on harrassment of the public. If this was not the case then there would be no complaints requiring the intervention of the trade association (PFRA) to regulate chugging behaviour. Pro chuggers argue the option of saying “no”. But many chuggers could choose to say “excuse me” before trying to engage with somebody. Many chuggers could refrain from indicating to people to take off headphones. Or to not bend down and wave at people to get their attention. Or purposefully stand directly on the other side of pedestrian crossings or on pavements in the narrow areas. Many chuggers could answer questions accurately about themselves and their profession. There’s lots things chuggers could do, but the industry is so poorly regulated they don’t do them.

The real question should be not be “does chugging raise a lot of money?” but “does this method allow people to make a careful and informed decision?”. Amnesty International happily banked my money for over four years (a spur of the moment decision for me to donate on my part) before making a pay off £800,000 to its former chief and deputy. That caused me to wonder if being taken in by a well-rehearsed pitch is really a responsible way to decide how and where I was going to donate my money. At the end of the day I believe that giving to a charity on a regular basis is a commitment that needs to be carefully thought through. I don’t feel that such a decision can be made on the street.

Islington council makes a good point that larger charities who are able to employ chugging tactics do so at the expense of smaller ones. It’s not that people are being generally encouraged to give to charity. It’s that they are being encouraged to give to a particular charity. I find it a shame that an organisation such as “The Charities Aid Foundation” aren’t publicised more which gives people the tools to research charities both locally and nationally before deciding to give. Sadly I can’t help but feel that organisations that utilise chugging do so on a monopoly. A good cause is all very well, but if that good cause is able to produce it’s own merchandise or run raffles with prizes then maybe it is about time for it think about becoming self-financing. Or if a charity does not thoroughly investigate and address breaches of it’s own fundraising rules then I have to question as to why their commitment to getting me to sign up is not extended to making itself accountable.

I am not an investment or a revenue stream. I am not a potential sign up. I am a private individual who tires of being singled out by whichever charity happens to be operating that day (and it is the usual ones). I am weary of not even being offered an “excuse me” because I am perceived as “fair game”. Yes I have been rude to chuggers. But it isn’t because I think I’m better than them. It’s because I’ve had enough of them. And they have only themselves to blame.

In short the goodwill I had towards national charities has long since evaporated after being repeatedly approached for money (and sometimes in imaginative and creative ways). The final straw came when I had charity fundraisers (from national organisations – and this includes ones who boast that they use in-house ones) deliberately stand in front of my path to get me to stop. Their argumentative and defensive attitude when I suggested that it’s not in their remit to do that sealed the decision.

At the end of the day a pavement is there for me to walk to get to my destination and I think it’s a bit much for charities to continuously use them as a hunting ground. I’m sorry if charities feel that they should be used for something else. I’m also sorry if it is felt that sincere intentions and the amount of money raised is reason enough to justify this style of fundraising and the effectiveness of self regulation. If it is suggested that I am “in the minority” or that “this style of fundraising doesn’t appeal” I would respond with the answer that that does not excuse someone deliberately standing in front of me going about my business, not wearing an ID card, refusing to supply it when asked, arguing with me and then witholding information by which I am able to complain. National charity. In house fundraisers.

My patience (like the contents of my bank account which are also finite in these challenging economic times) are limited and there is only so much I am able to give. So Friends of the Earth, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Aspinall Foundation I’m tired of indicating to you I’m not interested. There are plenty of charities that do not use this intrusive method of fundraising and those are the ones I will support in future.

New chugger rules are on the way: http://www.which.co.uk/news/2012/08/charities-face-new-street-fundraising-rules-293641/

Following a year long trial, The Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) will enforce the new chugger rules, which impose a number of restrictions on how street-side charity workers can operate. The restrictions will prevent charity workers from:

Following a person for more than three steps
Standing within three metres of a shop doorway, cashpoints, pedestrian crossing or station entrance
Signing up anyone who is unable to give informed consent, due to illness, disability, drink or drug use
Approaching anyone who is working, such as newspaper vendors

Charities will be given a 1,000 penalty point limit, which is reset annually. Breaching any of the rules will result in up to 100 penalty points being levied on the charities. Once the 1,000 limit has been reached the charities will be charged on a £1 per point basis.

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