Exploitation of chuggers
Last year there was a growing body of negative feeling towards street fundraisers, ‘charity muggers’ or ‘chuggers’ as they are unaffectionately known.
A Local Government Association survey of councils revealed that charity fundraisers who approach shoppers had become unwelcome in three quarters of towns across the country. Complaints were recorded from the public in more than two thirds of high streets where ‘chuggers’ were said to operate. Concerns weren’t just expressed by unwitting shoppers; they came from shopkeepers too who said that the presence of chuggers was driving down trade.
Street fundraisers, whose aim is to obtain bank details and signed direct debit forms, are not currently governed by the regulations that restrict the activities of collectors who rattle tins and collect cash. So, there were calls for new legislation to control their activities.
Late in 2012 there was an inquiry into the activities of street fundraisers working for a company called Tag Campaigns, which found that the company and its employees were in breach of charity law. It was claimed that the chuggers had been making misleading claims. The case was referred to the Charity Commission. However, Tag is a profit-making company and not a charity and, therefore, the Commission was unable to prosecute. The regulations governing the way that face-to-face fundraisers operate on the streets are set by the Institute of Fundraising and this is meant to ensure that aggressive tactics are not used.
Now it seems that some councils are taking the situation into their own hands. In Shrewsbury, for example, where Pride Hill has reportedly become a particular hot-spot, the Council and police are working with the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association to set a limit on the number and frequency of fundraisers allowed to operate in the area.
In Edinburgh, investment in the city centre and the launch of the Essential Edinburgh business plan has sparked a campaign to clean up the streets including discussion about the banning of chuggers as reported by STV.
With jobs in short supply, should we be considering the chuggers themselves? An 18 year old, known to the Conscious Communications team, was recently approached in the street and asked if he wanted a job helping to raise much needed money for a major and very worthwhile charity. Casual work is scarce as we know and young people across the country are finding it hard to earn cash to do the things they would like. This particular young man was saving to be able to travel for a few months and jumped at the chance to earn, without much thought for why a total stranger would offer him a job.
The interview process was brief and with some sales experience already under his belt, successful. In no time he was off to Nottingham where he was to stay for four months, working 6 days a week on a commission based package, which included accommodation.
All went well for a few days. He had a bedroom in a large house and shared a bathroom with the few other new recruits. However, within the week, more people had arrived in the house and now there weren’t enough beds or bedding to go around. The recruits were set strict financial targets and given their ‘patch’. At the end of the second week our 18 year old hadn’t reached his target, was given two days to bring in the money and, when he couldn’t find enough willing victims on the Nottingham streets, was fired.
There is so much in this sorry little tale that isn’t right. Should the recruitment and business practices of these fundraising companies come under greater scrutiny? Maybe this would point a way forward for curtailing the exploitation of both shoppers and other vulnerable groups – the young and unemployed who are also the victims of these companies and the charities that commission them.
A key issue, of course, is that chugging is a very useful and lucrative fundraising tool for charities, so we imagine there must be a certain reluctance to restrict their activities.