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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
Confessions of a street fundraiser
Talking to a passer-by in London
Andrew in action in west London
Teams of perky people with clipboards are keen to separate you from your money, all for a good cause. But as numbers swell, public opinion has soured somewhat. Here, Andrew Napier recounts his days on the street raising standing orders for charity.

I'm an actor and when I'm not doing acting work, this is my day job.

People have started to call us 'chuggers', or charity muggers

I started about a year ago after seeing an advert in the Stage newspaper - the agencies advertise in an actors' paper because they want outgoing people.

I'd been doing very boring temp work; I kept seeing beautiful sunshine out the windows, and I thought, 'yes, that sounds like fun'.

Andy in action
"Won't you stop and talk to me please...?"
Some people think the agencies deliberately pick attractive young people, but I really don't think that's fair.

It would be naive to say that looks don't make a difference - a lot of blokes will sign up if asked by an attractive woman - but as far as recruitment goes, it's completely personality-based.

Not-so-secret tactics

There are two aspects to the training: how to approach people on the street; and knowing about the individual charities themselves.

High returns
Once a donor signs up, the standing order lasts six years on average
At my agency we're assigned to one charity for up to three months, but others rotate people around faster. I don't see that it matters if people go out for a different charity each day - they still have to know all about it.

To prepare for the job, we do role-plays to run through the spiels, to work out the best way to get through to the public.

Once you get out on the street, you just have to go for it. Some people can be a bit nervous at first but you can't really be a shy and retiring type.

Andy in action
Andrew finds that jokes get people to stop
I've found that humour helps. 'Do you want to hear my joke for the day?' usually gets people to stop. If they listen to my lame, cheesy joke, they'll usually hear me out about the charity as well.

Of course there's a bit of flirting sometimes, but it's a matter of definitions. If I talk to a guy, it's conversation; if I talk to a girl it could be called flirting. Although I did go out for coffee with someone once...

'Some people are rude'

Most people are friendly, even when they say no. Occasionally people are rude - you can't print what one gentleman said to me - but being blanked is the worst.

Despite what people think, we don't get a commission - it wouldn't be ethical

Then there are the people who have a problem with the fact that we get paid, which is unreasonable because this is a full-time job. All charities set aside part of their budget for fundraising, and they have contracts with agencies like mine to get new donors.

Despite what people think, we don't get a commission. I don't think it's ethical to pay fundraisers on that basis. I started on 8 an hour and am now on 10. There are targets - we're supposed to sign up five people a day - but it doesn't affect your pay.

People do try and give me money for the charity, but I can't accept cash donations because we're not licensed to get money in buckets, as it were.

Too many?

People have recently started to call us 'chuggers', or charity muggers.

Street recruiters in action
Green-clad, brollie-toting fundraisers work the street
It's quite a laugh when it's tongue-in-cheek but it does reflect a growing attitude in certain sections of society about what we're doing.

Street fundraising has certainly mushroomed in the past couple of years, especially London, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Manchester.

I've had days when I wonder if it's run its course. I wonder if the city's been inundated with too many fundraisers, if everyone who's wants to give has already signed up. But I do still find people who want to donate.

Add your views, using the form below. Here's some of your comments so far:

This evening we all coughed up 10 each in aid of the NSPCC for a private "casino" party at a pub. It was quite fun until we were besieged by a woman who had allegedly won most of the prizes which she then proceeded to auction off "for charity" and "for children". She was assisted by friends who upped the ante as far as they thought it would go. Later she came around and was extremely demanding for any spare change we had for her charity. I'm quite glad that several friends and I told her exactly what we thought of her. For what it's worth, we're all professional, well-educated workers, and this woman's chugging was a step too far for us.
Zobo Kolonie, England

10 an hour sounds a very good rate of pay (way over the minimum wage), considering a lot of the smaller charities rely on volunteers to raise money.
Karen Morgan, UK

I'm a "chugger" and have to put up with a fair amount of abuse. Many people just don't realise that without us, the charities couldn't help the thousands of kids that they do. Maybe that's something they should consider.
Andrew Johnston, England

This is the most efficient and cost-effective way for a charity to raise money. It gives enough scope to plan for the future (the average donor gives for about 5-6 years) and not waste money. While there is still so much poverty, suffering and death I feel that being as understanding and as generous as possible is the least we can do.
Kim, England

I worked as a chugger but only lasted one week. My agency paid commission and the targets were tough. Seeing how automated and pushy some of my colleagues were made me quit ASAP. I was quite uneasy, especially as if you earned over a certain amount you got 40% - think how little the charity would get after the agency took its fee.
Gary O'Boy, UK

Could we wear some kind of amnesty badge to indicate that we don't want to be approached? I support several charities and have had enough of politely saying 'no thanks' to chuggers and then having to say the same thing eight times to their colleagues.
Justin, UK

What is most intrusive: advertising images commanding attention? CCTV cameras? People eating fast food on trains? Mobile phones ringing? Or people smiling at you and representing a good cause?
PJ, England

In California it's not only the street that they use; I am besieged with phone calls begging for everything from police activities to a variety of charities and even political parties. Even if I wanted to donate, I can't be sure WHO is taking my money and what is being done with it. All I do is say "no" on the street, moving on. And on the phone? I use my answering machine to monitor calls.
Nola Caliente, US

I work in the City. Teams of 3-6 work there most lunch times (sometimes both sides of the street). If they were street traders the police would move them on.
Tim Kaye, London

I have no problems with chuggers per se, but when 90% of your lunchbreak the same people ask you the same questions it really gets on your nerves. Charities need to understand moderation, otherwise opinions towards them will be soured quite considerably.
Robert Flook, Wales

Chuggers earn a wage, while the vast majority of bucket collectors are volunteers. I've spent many a day collecting around the UK, to be repeatedly told that people won't donate as I get paid for what 'm doing. It's difficult to persuade people of the difference. Bucket collectors give up their time to raise money, braving sunburn, pouring rain and heavy snow (well, in Aberdeen) for their causes.
Mike, Japan-UK

I cannot understand why people get so annoyed with fundraisers. They are always polite and it makes a nice change to see smiling faces in London. When only 7% of the UK population give regularly to charity I see a real need to have them.
Michelle Black, England

I have stopped going into Bath centre at lunchtimes because I am fed up with being harassed by a different "chugger". Once a week is fine, but every day is wearing thin!
James Fox, England

I work in Kentish Town, and I have started to watch how many people are stopped repeatedly just walking to the Tube. Three out of 10 people get stopped more than once along a 150 yard stretch. I am not uncharitable, I have a standing order to three charities. But I do object to being harassed repeatedly while going on my daily business.
Richard Methuen, England

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08 Dec 00 | UK
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