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Dublin: 13 °C Sunday 21 December, 2014

Column: Chuggers, chuggers everywhere – is street fundraising crossing the line?

There are better ways to secure donations that the overly-direct approaches employed by some street fundraisers – so why aren’t charities using them?

Anonymous

IT’S SATURDAY AFTERNOON in Dublin’s city centre. I am strolling towards Henry St, Penneys set firmly in my sights. Shopping. A heavenly activity for any woman, right? Think again! Once a pleasurable, relaxing experience, shopping on any of the city centre’s main streets has now become a military-like operation, in which the goal is to stealthily dodge those charity ‘chuggers’ and in turn avoid a dent in your bank balance.

Having volunteered myself for charitable organisations in the past, I am all for supporting such great causes. However, isn’t lining out a team of charity fundraisers in a formation that any New Zealand rugby coach would be envious of not only extremely irritating to the general public, but also bordering on harassment?

Last weekend, as I successfully circled my third fundraiser in under a minute, the 90s TV show Gladiators sprang to mind – in particular the task where the contestant had to dodge/push past a line of professional Gladiators in order to reach the finishing line. In fact, having reached the end of Henry St without parting with my bank details, I felt quite hard done by Ulrika Johnson wasn’t there herself to greet me.

Taking a more direct approach

Initially vying for our attention with a harmless shake of a box, charity fundraisers (who themselves, we must remember, earn commission) now take a more direct approach, firing emotive questions such as “Are you interested in helping the homeless?” or “Would you like so save an unwanted animal?”, in order to increase our feelings of guilt as we sheepishly shake our heads or dare verbalise a ‘No.’

At the risk of being labelled the 21st centuries answer to Scrooge, is it really fair that in recessionary times such as these, people who are struggling to pay their mortgage and/or feed their kids, are being made to feel guilty for not parting with their spare cash on what may be their only break away all week from the stresses and strains of everyday life?

Lawmakers in the UK think not. In 2012, The Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) implemented strict new laws which include non obstruction of members of the public and a ‘three step rule’, which states that chuggers can take no more than three steps alongside a person in their attempts to engage them. The penalty point system fines organisations one pound for every point that fundraisers working for them incur.

A recent survey conducted by The Wheel, a charity umbrella organisation, revealed that 60 per cent of Irish charities have experienced a fall in funding since 2009. While this may explain their chuggers bordering on aggressive fundraising methods, this doesn’t make them right. Although nobody can deny both the excellent and essential services that charitable organisations provide for those in need, surely there are less intrusive ways of convincing people to donate?

There are better ways to fundraise

An example of one such method is the ability to give a donation via text message following an advertisement by a charitable organisation on the television. In times like these, understandably people are reluctant to commit themselves to any discretionary form of expenditure on a monthly basis. However, with SMS donation, this can be done as a once off gesture of goodwill. The benefit for the charitable organisation being not only that they get a donation, but are also establishing a point of contact with someone they now know is likely to donate to their organisation.

I should add that some people don’t appear to mind the seemingly never-ending approaches that they receive from charity fundraisers. Yep guys and gals don’t deny it; I have witnessed this ‘selective stoppage’ for more attractive chuggers myself!

Finally, a word to the wise: there are plain clothed fundraisers lurking amongst crowds in the city centre. Last week I witnessed a handsome young man approach an unsuspecting girl with a placatory smile and a sparkle in his eye, before Houdini-like revealing a handful of tickets and informing her about the charity that her purchases would benefit. Shouldn’t all fundraisers be clearly identified with a jacket or visible sticker? Isn’t this approach open to misuse?

More importantly, fundraisers wearing plain clothes leave a ‘dodger’ like myself at a disadvantage. They blend in with the crowd and can strike at any time.

The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous for employment reasons.

[Main image: Ronnie Macdonald via Flickr/Creative Commons]

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