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Last Updated: Monday, 26 April, 2004, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
'Can you spare five minutes for charity?'
By Margaret Ryan
BBC News Online

Walk down any busy High Street and chances are there will be a line-up of friendly faces keen to sign up donors for a charity campaign. The boom in street fundraising has irritated many.

Fundraising on the street
A familiar sight in towns and cities
To charity fundraisers, every person on the street is a potential donor.

"We have a smile on our face as we approach everyone," says Paula Morison, of the Oxford-based fundraising agency Dialogue Direct.

Yet no matter how friendly the approach, the teams of clipboard-wielding fundraisers have frustrated the public sufficiently to become known as charity muggers - or chuggers for short.

Student Lizzie Tucker, 23, of London, is among those unconvinced by the tactic. "They are really annoying. You're in a rush and they keep stopping you."

She claims to know a "chugger" who got friends to sign up to reach the target for new donors, only for them to promptly cancel their direct debits.

"It seems like a waste of money - all that administration for, say, 5."

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But for all the people who look the other way, or pretend to suddenly have an urgent text message to send, it is a successful fundraising tactic.

Oxfam's Lys Holdoway says younger people in particular are responsive - four-fifths of those signed up are under 35.

"A lot of younger people prefer to be approached that way. They can ask questions," she says.

Last year alone, 600,000 people signed up for direct debit pledges after being approached on the street or the doorstep, according to the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association. It's estimated that each person who signs up will go on to contribute on average 350 over five years.

Weekly wage

Street fundraisers have a strict code of conduct, says the association's chief executive Sue Brumpton, such as telling those they stop whether they are being paid an hourly rate, by commission or a combination of both.

And despite the negative image of pushy salespeople, she knows of only one person who had to be sacked in the past year.

Collection tin
Fundraising has moved on
But shy retiring types need not apply.

"You have to be outgoing, able to approach people and be resilient as you have to stand out there in all weathers. And you have to be enthusiastic about helping the charities".

Dialogue Direct, which raises money for charities as diverse Greenpeace, Amnesty International and the RNLI, pays its recruits a weekly wage of 250 to 400, based on how many donors are signed up.

The agency is paid a fixed fee by the charity. While it has an overall target for the number of donors brought in, this varies with each campaign. The charities themselves decide how much of their budget to allocate to face-to-face marketing.

Running the gauntlet

But has street fundraising had its day? We asked pedestrians on some London streets.

Pedro Ferreira
It is an invasion of privacy and aggressive
Pedro Ferreira
Tony Beales, a software consultant, doesn't mind being approached.

"I don't always sign up for the charities - and some fundraisers approach you in a better manner than others - but ultimately it is for a good cause."

Publican Andy Hayter, 41, says at the very least, it raises awareness of the charities involved.

But Pedro Ferreira, 29, who works in PR, finds the tactic annoying. "It's an invasion of privacy and aggressive. Whatever money I give to charity, I choose to do so through direct debit."

Chuggers insist that they are not here to irritate, simply to help good causes.

"Everyone is professionally trained to take no for an answer," says Ms Morrison. "A polite no is all we need."


Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

It costs money to do anything and raising funds is no different. The big charities like Greenpeace and Oxfam aren't going to let themselves get ripped off by companies to whom they outsource street fundraising. And if it doesn't work as a method of raising money then it won't be around too long.
John McDonald, London

This type of fundraising is irritating, although an important source of funds for charities. But it does cause 'tin rattler' volunteers some problems - people often assume we are being paid or want their details rather than just their spare change.
Sam, UK

Being approached in the street is one thing, but door-to-door chugging is another! I've had people banging on my door at 8pm on more than one occasion. Once when I declined, a woman stuck her foot in the door and gave me a guilt trip about starving children/endangered animals etc. I'm well aware of these issues; however I'm a student with an annual income of 3000. When I can afford to donate, I will find charities myself. Until then it's an invasion of my space to be accosted in the street or in my home.
Helen, UK

This whole 'chugging' phonomenon is very annoying to me. I can't go from A to B without being stopped by loads of 'chuggers', often from the same charity, all lined up in a row on the same road. Whose brilliant idea was this anyway? Over the years, it has started to have a terrible effect on my attitude to charities. I see these people as worse than pushy salesmen because they try to prey on your guilt. I happily walk by them now without feeling the need to respond to their smiles, gestures, attempts to be funny or whatever tactic they are using that day to try and get peoples attention. I have had to become this rude just so as to ensure I can get where I am going each day without being delayed.
Adanna Akintola, UK

If using chuggers is more effective than spending money on mail shots or other methods then fine. It also probably nets in people who are missed by mailshots. However what stops the chugger's employer selling on your details ?
David B, UK London

I am not against donating to charity - I already do so on a monthly basis. My choice. I set it up. But I will not hand out my bank details to a stranger in the street.
PH, Wales

When the RNLI decided to employ chuggers, I cancelled my membership and instead give a lump sum to my local lifeboat station to be used locally. The break was hard for me as I have crewed in a lifeboat, and myself and three young sons were rescued from the Firth of Clyde many years ago. It will be interesting to see if this approach results in fewer endowments in the wills of elderly traditionalists.
Nick Hunter, Scotland

I like em. I'd much rather our streets were filled with energetic, smiley, enthusiastic people trying to persuade us to do something to improve the world than the acres of corporate advertising and shop front after shop fron enticing you to part with money in exchange for tat. Good on you chuggers. Chug on.
Paul, UK

There are 130,000 registered charities in the UK. Too many by far. If these were businesses they would consolidate and become efficient. I am not interested in funding hordes of chuggers. I am interested in making charities being effective by not duplicating effort wastefully.
James, UK

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