/ Money

Why I won’t stop to donate to charity collectors

Pebbles with letters spelling out the word 'charity'

Many of the charity collectors you see on the streets don’t work directly for the charity and get commission for every person they sign up. Is this really a cost-effective method of fundraising for charities? I don’t think so.

Walking home last week, an exuberant woman jumped out in front of me waving her arms. Yes, the dreaded ‘chugger’.

You know the ones, those in-your-face young things (I’m 37 and feeling old this week) clutching a clipboard and trying to get us to sign up to a monthly direct debit for the charity of their choice.

I’m not particularly proud of the words that crossed my lips in response, but I equally don’t feel guilty that I refused her advances. I already donate each month to a charity that I believe in. I don’t want to be accosted in the street by a charity collector who is being paid to sign up as many people as possible.

Show your support independently

Often, the chugger doesn’t work for the charity, but rather for a private contractor. This company earns a fee for every person signed up. In many cases the chugger is on commission too. Which means the charity in question may see not a penny of your donations for at least the first few months, if not longer.

Even signing up online yourself is not without hurdles. When I set up the direct debit for my monthly donation I made it clear that I didn’t want any further day-to-day interaction.

I told the charity: just take my money and spend it wisely. Don’t waste half my donation on sending me begging letters, fridge magnets and mass-produced ‘personal’ notes from ‘beneficiaries’.

It didn’t stop them sending me junk mail though, and I had to contact them twice more to stop it. I support the cause, but if I think a charity is wasting my money on unnecessary marketing, I won’t donate at all.

Does the benefit justify the cost?

I realise that all this must be an effective money-raiser for many charities – that’s why they do it. But which of the following is better?

(a) A charity earns £1m a year from voluntary donations and traditional fundraising
(b) Chugging and direct mailing brings in an increased total of £3m a year, but £1.5m of this goes in commission and advertising.

For the charity’s coffers, option (b) is obviously better. For the donating public, it’s much less clear-cut and will leave many people feeling ripped off.

Making me feel bad for rejecting a chugger in the street or for not buying an orphan-and-maltreated-donkey calendar just damages a charity’s brand. And if a charity loses public trust, it might as well pack up and go home.

PS. A note to chuggers: I admire your enthusiasm, but zany jumping about went out with Timmy Mallett in the 80s.


Ah, Martyn. I was wondering when a post would finally appear about Chuggers on Which? Conversation.
I walk home from work – past Kings Cross and through Islington – and if I’m not confronted by at least two chuggers then it’s an exceptional evening.
I no longer feel guilty when I reply ‘No’ to the question: ‘Do you want to save a starving child?’ but others are less desensitised and may end up pledging money that they can’t really afford to give up, which accounts to being bullied in my book.

I’ve even been accosted whilst wearing headphones – pointing at my ears and mouthing “No – sorry” didn’t seem to deter this hyped up chugger. In many respects it is like selling door to door. After a while people just ignore them!

I have mixed feelings about chuggers, having well-and-truly experienced both sides of the coin.

I sympathise with your view Martyn, having worked above a bank on a high street for a number of years, where chuggers would stand outside nearly everyday. Remaining pleasant every lunchtime and evening as I left the building wasn’t easy.

BUT… I also worked as a chugger for a number of months after I first graduated and understand how it has helped to diversify charities’ supporters.

Many of the charities I represented were very small and had no way of reaching to new supporters, to get their cause known. Yes, the charity has to pay to have this service, but for many the pay back was enormous – greater public awareness and more supporters. It’s a more effective method of fundraising than other forms of advertising where their message would get lost.

It’s a bit simplistic to say charities shouldn’t aspire to raising more funds – they are, at the heart of it, just like any other business and have plans to run more projects etc. The only way to do this is to grow – this is one method they can use to do so.

As for the fundraisers themselves, we were paid an hourly rate (NEVER commission, although I can’t speak on behalf of all here) for which we worked very hard. It’s all too easy to s**g them off for being overly friendly – but stop and think about standing on a street for 8 hours a day, having to remain polite when people are constantly ignoring you or even being rude and aggressive.

I agree that in an ideal world, everyone would research which causes they care about and give accordingly. Unfortunately, we all know this doesn’t happen enough. As long as chuggers aren’t pushy (and I know some of them are), then I’m happy for them to stay.

most of the chuggers i see are clearly incentivised ie on commision.

Sue Bevan says:
26 April 2011

I can’t stand charity muggers. To me they are just the same as any cold caller trying to sell me double glazing or Sky TV. They invade my privacy and won’t get a penny out of me!

I stopped giving to some charities when their high overheads were exposed some years ago. I had not appreciated that many charities pay their collectors.

In future I will support only the charity I work for, though I will continue to support friends who are collecting for charities.

It might be an old fashioned view, but I feel that all charities should be run by unpaid volunteers and payment of expenses should be very carefully controlled.

agree – i dont give to charities AT ALL .

far too much ends up in directors pockets.

mikey says:
20 November 2011

In a perfect world yes, but be realistic, look at what a charity the like red cross for example, perform all the tasks it does, all over the world in almost every country, looking after the elderly and disabled, being second on the scene after your house burns down, rescuing people after an earthquake providing medical attention in war zones. How can it perform these task if its just run by George, who volunteers on the odd weekend.
Running an organisation as big as that is one step away from a military campaign and requires very skilled and intelligent to spend their full time making sure it runs smoothly.
Don’t quote me on this because I don’t know the facts but I would imagine the people that run an organisation like that would be capable of running a successfully business somewhere else and probably getting paid a lot more then they do. So baring that in mind, if they do a good job, save lifes, rebuild communities like the 5 years they are staying in Haiti for, use their skills and knowledge for the benefit of people that need help, don’t they deserve to get paid good wages? Honestly if I was that skilled I wouldn’t dedicate my life for free.
But as I said, I don’t know how it works so I may be completely wrong lol.

tony avon says:
27 April 2011

To all people – chuggers included – who accost me in the street I say this one thing, “Je suis désolé, mais je ne parle pas français.”
They typically shrug, adopt a ‘funny’ French accent or say “Oui, Oui” and leave me alone. Shows how much they listened though. Or how interested they were in you as opposed to getting some of your money. All I have told them (in French) is that I’m sorry, but I don’t speak French.
I’ve been doing this for years and it gets rid of people like a cannister of chemical mace (I suppose, I don’t actually know). Anyhow, they go away.
At one stage I vowed that if anyone caught me out, I would stand and hear what they had to say – although I would not undertake to give them anything as I have already selected the charities I chose to support. It has only happened once. To a charming young man who wanted to talk, very interestingly, about Buddhism. He had been the only one who was not so interested in and wrapped up in his mission that he forgot he was approaching a real person. And, in a civilised non-money- grabbing society, you listen to real people. It’s just a nice thing to do.

I have to admit to having changed my mind about face to face fundraising (or ‘chugging’ as it is less affectionately known) some years ago. I too found it irritating to be stopped in the street, a little embarrassed at being confronted by over-enthusiastic people, eager to encourage me to part with a small donation each month – and yes, deep down I do still find it a bit of a pain having to run the gauntlet on Tottenham Court Road on my way home.

However, having worked for a mental health charity who decided to have a go at raising funds this way, I saw the other side of this often vital income stream and must echo some of Hannah’s comments above. I realised that it was an alternative way of raising funds for causes that are traditionally quite difficult to fundraise for, like mental health. Not only did this method of fundraising turn out to be cost effective, but it enabled the on-street fundraisers to direct people who were interested specifically in mental health issues, including people with mental health problems and their carers who had not accessed any help previously, to the charity helpline. The fundraisers I helped to brief about the charity before they went out onto the streets were very professional, highly committed individuals who really did want to do their best for us, and from the feedback I heard, did not resort to the pushy tactics some have been accused of. This would have reflected poorly on the charity itself, so any fundraisers worth their salt would not act in this way.

I think donating to a charity, however you choose to or choose not to do it, is a very personal thing, but I think to stop this way of fundraising could make what is already a difficult time for lots of smaller charities, and causes that don’t always attract big donations, even worse.

If a complete stranger stopped you in the street and asked for your bank account details so they could take money out of it would you hand them over?
Anyone can get a bib and clipboard. It’s just face to face phishing.

mikey says:
20 November 2011

But they only take the same info which you find on a cheque, which if you have delt with cheques in the past (i realise they are a dying breed) you may have handed one out to any tom Dick and harry, with tbd same information written on them not once but twice which is necessary to set up a DD. It’s also the same info that is on the top right hand corner of a letter from a bank, which has probably passed through many peoples hands before reaching your doormat.
Also any donations through an official rep would be protected by the DD guarantee, and the rep will have a phone number to a call centre, it would be one smart con man to pull all that off.

Brian Andrews says:
27 April 2011

Like many people, I regulalrly donate to charities of my own choice by direct debit (Gift Aid enhanced thanks to HM Treasury!), so I also get slightly frustrated by the number of other people approaching me for money, when I have already designated my giving. It is however rather disengenuous of Martyn to dismiss these collectors outright,and by inference the charities behind them,just for trying. It is also disappointing that he chooses to demean them with such a derogatory description. There are a zillion worthwhile charities, doing valuable work and needing support, and to fund raise to try and improve someone else’s lot, is happily not yet a crime. Even if it does make Martyn feel a little guilty.

In an ideal world we wouldn’t need charities, 100% of donated funds would go directly to the requisite cause, neither collectors nor donators would feel under pressure, and the land would flow with milk and honey. However those days are not yet with us, so let’s cut charitable collectors a little slack. A polite refusal is surely all that is required. Or possibly even an occasional agreement?

If i can put a slightly different slant on the chugger i stay in East Kilbride and one day last week i thought we were being invaded i counted aroung 12 people all with clipboards and backpacks and stated going in tamdem refusing to take the word no for an answer not how you would expect people working for a charity wont mention which one but it is a household name.They could get a job selling glazing.

At least once a month we get chuggers knocking on our door which I find infuriating. Not only is it more annoying than cold calling, they also seem to time their visit perfectly with my baby’s dinner time or when I’m upstairs and about to put him in the bath.
I’m keeping a look out for a sign that says ‘no chugging’ instead of ‘no junk mail’.

mikey says:
20 November 2011

Just hand write a small sign that says no charities, I believe (as I used to be one lol) that they have to abide by it by law, even hand written ones, where as the rules for ‘no cold callers’ signs are a bit funny.

Street Collections must be licensed, inter alia to prevent fraud and provide control. Chugging has revealed a major loophole in the regulations. This is a worthy matter for Which? to embrace, in order to protect consumers from fraud and nuisance.

lenjuk says:
28 April 2011

All this is about street collectors, charities also employ professional fundraisers , at one event we organised the charity fundraiser told us all off for not donating enough! Then later we found out the money we collected was going towards a £3000 per person miniumum sposorship charity bike ride to Paris – and guess what her son and his friends were all hoping to join the ride. So literally a free ride. We stopped giving to these businesses – there are loads of proper local charities.

As an occasional VOLUNTEER charity collector I am very distressed by the affect the “chuggers” are having. The public have no way of knowing whether they are being approached by someone doing so for their own direct personal benefit or by a genuine helper.
Unfortunately people are now beginning to think we are all the same.

mikey says:
20 November 2011

Does it matter? So long as the money goes where it should and lives are saved? I did it because I needed a job, and in this current climate, highest unemployment rate sinse the eighties, I have a good cv, and a degree, and that was the only job I could find, I didn’t do it because I aspired to saving lives, I did it to put food on my own table, but the funny thing is, I was actually really good at it, I was one of the top scoring guys in an office of 40 people and my cancellation rate was one of the lowest to which meant I was good at getting people to believe it was a worthwile cause to donate for a large amount of time.

Please forgive me but your comment makes it sound like you are more concerned to how people perceive you and what kind of recognition you get for volunteering, rather than how the money helps people that need it the most.

I hope, the money I raised (i don’t do the job anymore) has gone to great use, but I imagine that if my hard work saved a life, i’m sure that person doesn’t care if the money came from myself who had no other option but to take that job so I could feed my kids, or you as you nobally volunteer, smiling every time someone pats you on the back.

Maid Marian says:
29 April 2011

I know it’s changing the subject, but what about all the so-called charity bags that come through our doors these days? I get at least 2 a week, and have now stuck a notice above my letterbox saying “No Charity Bags Thank you”. The final straw was one for Lithuanian Breast Cancer sufferers, and whilst I have every sympathy for them, I am not about to “hurry up and donate”.

Even some of the “genuine” charity bags schemes are operated by commercial firms who then pay the charity named on the bag a fixed amount by weight – typical figure “£40 per ton”.
A ton is probably over 100 bags so thats only 40p per bag !
So always donate direct to a charity shop .

Don’t give money, give your time, it’s much more rewarding.

I have been doing voluntary work for a local charity for many years, perhaps 10 hours/week over and above my demanding full-time job. It’s worth it to see the positive effect our work has on those who need it, and it’s great fun too, though also hard work at times.

Or, give what you don’t need. I regularly make trips to the charity shops to donate things that could raise them money, rather than selling these items.

mr smith says:
12 June 2011

i am totally fed up with chuggers dancing around me, trying to embarrass me into stopping and talking to them – these tactics have come from forceful hard-sales methods – and i find it intrusive when they call out to me like “hey! guy in blue shirt come and talk to me!” – surely singling people out and shouting out to them in the street is against some sort of law?
just yesterday a guy from one charity rushed up to me and said ” its ok its not a survey!!”
– not having time to stop and just being thoroughly fed up by these people, i just ignored him – and then he retorted “i wish i was tough like you!!!” to which i replied “f off you f ing pr*ck!!”
i should be allowed to do my shopping without being bothered – theres too many of these people now to keep saying “no thanks” to

i know its wrong and more of a reflection on myself than anything else, but these chuggers making smart remarks at people when they aren’t interested is just damaging to the reputation of the charity they represent – theres no need to sneer a sarcastic “have a nice day!” or whatever just we’re not intrerested in donating.

mikey says:
20 November 2011

Really? Take a look at this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7gL9ofxl0g
If you know anyone that’s been to a country like this ask them what it was like to walk down the street. And then ask yourself “do I really have it that bad?”

Not quite on topic, but it is quite common to see children collecting for charities at supermarket checkouts. Some ask customers if they would like help with packing and others just put goods straight into plastic bags without asking.

Murphy's mum says:
28 June 2011

I give to several charities each month and I started trying to look into how much of the money is used on the people in need and how much is given to the CEOs of the charity & admin but I am finding it hard to find this information- can anyone point me in the direction of an international or UK version of the charitynavigator website? I would like to be sure my money is working hard for the causes I support. Maybe Which could do an article on this?