If you walk down a central London street like Carnaby Street, most lunchtimes you’ll come across in-street charity teams who are very keen to get you to sign up a direct debit order with whoever they’re representing that day. It’s called “chugging” – charity mugging.
I’ve known for ages that these teams are not volunteer members or supporters of the charity. Instead they’re professional teams who the charity pays for on the basis of each member that gets signed up. But it does all seem to get a little complicated at this point.
I decided to have another look into this, having noticed that the charity t-shirts or waterproofs now tend to have a small logo of the company that actually supplies the personnel. In the street this lunchtime, Mencap was the chosen charity and t-shirts had a small logo for Dialogue Direct. Their website makes for interesting reading. In particular the FAQs. While there’s a lot of explanation about why this kind of charity collection is highly cost effective, with long-term donators being found, the money side of things is not that clear.
How much of the money given in the first year actually goes to the charity?
All the money raised from donations, 100% of it, goes directly to the charity, which in turn reinvests a small part of it in future fundraising initiatives.
So how does Dialogue Direct make money if that’s the case? Again, it’s not spelt out, but it seems that Dialogue Direct is paid directly by the charity on a per-donor basis.
The charity only pays for the donors they receive, instead of making a speculative spend in the hope that enough people will respond to the ad or mail-shot.
OK. It begins to make sense. But then there’s a link to another site funjobs4u.co.uk, which is where you can get a job being a “face to face fundraiser.”
Again, it’s worth looking at the FAQ section of their site:
Am I paid on commission?
All the donations you sign up go directly to the charity; we do not pay on a commission basis.
So how exactly are the “face to face fundraisers” paid? Is it a per hour wage, with bonuses for each donor they sign up? And what kind of sums are we talking about? It’s not obvious anywhere on the site what the answer to this is.
A job on the Guardian’s website suggests that someone based in the SW, SE and London might earn between £250-£500 per week.
A piece written by a “chugger” back in 2003 suggests that in fact they get paid on a per hour basis – then £8 – with targets that have to be met.
There is actually an organisation representing all those companies that supply “chuggers” – the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA).
Curiously Dialogue Direct’s website features a quote from one Cathy Anderson of Greenpeace:
“DialogueDirect allows Greenpeace to reach new groups of people, people that have not been attracted by conventional marketing. Because of the success of face-to-face recruitment we have over 60,000 new supporters, all giving regular, reliable financial support to Greenpeace.”
Yet a report from The Observer back in 2004 suggested that Greenpeace were getting out of the industry.
The chairman of Greenpeace, Martyn Day, said that what the industry calls ‘face to face’ campaigning was now having a negative effect on the group’s profile and fundraising efforts. Chugging – short for ‘charity mugging’ – got an increasingly bad name after initial successes led to a flood of charities using young people to ask passerbys to donate by direct debit.
But not everyone is stopping doing it. Indeed some charities are taking it a step further and putting together in-house teams rather than relying on third-party agencies. That same article claimes that 213,000 people signed a direct-debit form in the street last year. If it cost charities as much as £100 per donor, that’d make the industry worth £20m+ a year. That seems a lot, although back in 2002 it was 350,000 so it has fallen back. That may be because everyone is already donating, or it may be because we’re all a bit fed up with having to dodge youngsters in colourful bibs and avoid eye-contact at all costs. And just to confuse matters a little further, the PFRA estimate that in fact 690,000 new supporters were found using “chugging” last year.
In the end, this article from The Guardian’s Ethical Living column is probably the most balanced. Published last November, so relatively up to date, it says that charities have to pay between £50 and £100 per donor, but concurring with the extracts from various websites, the “chuggers” don’t get paid commission.
I’ve always found it little difficult to fully grasp why some marketing folk who work for charities earn quite as much as they do. Of course charities have to be good marketeers, but it pains me to think that one person’s salary might be the equivalent of three hundred people’s annual contributions to that charity.
The bottom line is that if you want to support a particular charity, just go online and sign up. Far fewer overheads and no payments to “chuggers”. There – you’ve already effectively “given” the charity another £100!