They cause us to tackle the city streets like it’s an obstacle course, but Róisín Finn asks if chuggers are really the problem as she talks to a former chugger about the tactics they employ to get donations
They’re a familiar sight across the city. For some, they do vital work in raising awareness and funds for worthwhile charities. For others, so called ‘chuggers’ are nothing except an irritating modern phenomenon.
Gleaning their nickname from the popular theory that these individuals are akin to ‘charity muggers’, questions surrounding their credibility and methodology have arisen. Does this form of fundraising border on harassment? Should street and door to door fundraising be banned completely? The case could be made that fundraising campaigns require a certain element of intrusion and bluntness to be successful.
The characteristic that seems to aggravate the public the most about both chuggers and door to door fundraisers is the scripted and manipulative approach used to promote sign-ups.
Anne Marie Byrne, UCD Law with Politics student, who has previously worked as a door to door fundraiser for Oxfam, told the University Observer of the “objection responses” she was taught.
“The most common [objection] was: ‘I’m signed up with another charity’ and that one I found difficult to overcome. A lot of people were signed up with Concern, so we were supposed to say that they were more focused on the nutrition aspect, whereas Oxfam are focused water and hygiene, then go through awards Oxfam has won.
“Another would be, ‘I have too many direct debits, I can’t commit to any more’. I found this response to be fake and not genuine, as we would have to say, ‘Oh don’t talk to me about direct debits, I have them coming out my ears. I can promise you when you look at your statement at the end of the month, this is the only one that will make you smile.’”
These scripted responses further blacken the reputation of chuggers. Being trained to rebut any protests or reluctance, while perhaps a clever sales technique, simply translates as intimidating.
It would seem that street fundraising has mushroomed in the recent past, which has sparked reactions from certain town councils in the UK, such as Watford and Islington, who are currently taking measures to prohibit, or heavily regulate street fundraising.
One suggestion may be to prohibit chugging and solely allow door to door fundraising, which has yet to come under much public scrutiny. However, this method undeniably requires an element of intrusion, and is slowly becoming a source of contention.
When asked if she ever felt she was intruding on someone’s home, Byrne says, “Yes, following a certain time in the evening, it did. People were coming back from work, had had a long day, putting their kids to bed or making their dinner; having their own lives.
“With old or disabled people, they usually wouldn’t answer their door late at night. They might come to the window and might have been put off or scared, then we were supposed to show them our badge. But I still felt bad for giving them such a shock.”
This issue of intrusion is the number one problem most people have with chugging, but these people usually aren’t aware that there are clear and cohesive procedures should someone want to complain about an organisation’s method of street fundraising, or even a chugger in particular. Concern, for example, has a specific page on their website dedicated to such complaints, as does Barnardos.
Another method would be to directly contacting the Fundraising Standards Board, who regulate such charities. More than 60 charities have also signed up and pledged alliance to the ICTR’s Statement of Guiding Principles of Fundraising, with Oxfam notably absent.
However, the CEO of Barnardos, Fergus Finlay, claimed in 2012 that the charity only received an average of two complaints a month on this topic. It would seem that there are little or no official complaints against chuggers, despite the public uneasiness towards them.
This draws the question, do chuggers really irritate us that much, and is this hatred nothing but a fleeting annoyance as we attempt to navigate Grafton Street or Henry Street?
The media frenzy surrounding the use of charitable donations to provide top-up payments to board members of the Central Remedial Clinic has darkened the attitude of the public towards the worthiness of donating to charity. Fundraising Ireland stated charity donations had plunged 40% in the wake of the top-ups controversy and also warned about phone calls coming in on an hourly basis of people cancelling donations.
It cannot be denied, however, that charities do some substantial good in improving the quality of life for the people of Ireland and communities abroad. Concern, Oxfam, Barnardos and many more, are all reputable charities that use street fundraising to raise funds and awareness.
While we have certainly established that ‘chuggers’ are bothersome and door to door fundraising can be intrusive, what’s the alternative? There is simply no other means of fundraising that produces such volumes of ‘regular giving’, which is the backbone of most charities, as once off donations simply do not go far enough. Regular giving allows charities to react to crisis quickly and effectively.
While ‘chuggers’ may transform our streets into military-like obstacle courses and inspire eye contact evasion and intense pavement staring, it cannot be denied that the work they do is incredibly worthwhile. Do they irritate us to our very core? Yes. Can they be rude and intrusive? Yes. Can they do some extraordinary good in the process? Indeed.