Column: ‘Chuggers’ – only the charities, it seems, will miss them

Watford Observer: Column: ‘Chuggers’ – only the charities, it seems, will miss them Column: ‘Chuggers’ – only the charities, it seems, will miss them

Rarely to do you see a political initiative so in tune with the public mood. But Watford Borough Council’s recent crackdown on town centre “chuggers” seems to have uncorked a boiling geyser of public frustration.

The clipboard-sporting charity workers who harass passers-by into signing up to direct debits paying a set amount every month have turned The Parade into a gauntlet of guilt-avoidance in recent years.

One moment you are peacefully wending your way down the pedestrianised concourse, the next you are fending off an overzealous 20-something who is essentially implying you are abetting global starvation by ignoring them.

Another reason chuggers have not endeared themselves to others is the arsenal of irksome gambits they employ to lure people into conversation.

My personal bête noir is the ploy where a chugger affects a jaunty pose and waits for an approaching victim as if they were an old friend. That or making false enquiries about how your day is going before moving seamlessly into an emotionally blackmailing patter.

And it would seem I am not alone, as reports of the crackdown disgorged an outpouring of annoyance and ire from Watford residents on social media this week.

The fact these collectors’ nickname, chuggers, is shorthand for “charity muggers” tells you all you need to know about the esteem in which they are held by the British public.

Despite the unpopularity of “chuggers”, charities show no sign of dispensing with this aggressive method of fundraising.

The attraction is clear: direct debits provide charities with a stable stream of revenue compared to one-off donations and ad hoc philanthropy.

That does not change the fact charities are using the goodwill naturally afforded them as cover for commercially sharp practices.

Nevertheless, the anger towards chuggers on display in the town over the last week is not a reflection of people’s willingness to give to charity.

A cursory leaf through any edition of the Watford Observer will unearth scores of people undertaking well-meaning and often gruelling challenges to raise money for charities. Often these people have been motivated by personal experience.

Unfortunately, the council’s crackdown will not remove chuggers from the town centre completely. Under the new regime they will be kettled to High Street between Clarendon Road and Kings Street.

The main reason chuggers have been allowed free reign until now is because the law is ambiguous about them.

The method only came into use in 1997 and since then councils have largely treated them as any other charity collection.

The council’s reforms seek to differentiate between chuggers and more traditional bucket-shaking charity collections and regulate the former more stringently.

The crackdown seems to have been almost universally welcomed and possibly does not go far enough. More than 80 per cent of readers who took part in our online poll wanted to see them banned completely.

At Tuesday’s meeting, councillors said a complete ban was not legally feasible, although more than a few seemed amenable to the idea.

This week has shown public and political mood, in this small part of the country anyway, wants to see this detested fundraising practice eradicated entirely.

But as long as chuggers make money for charities, they look set to remain a scourge of British high streets.

The clipboard-sporting charity workers who harass passers-by into signing up to direct debits paying a set amount every month have turned The Parade into a gauntlet of guilt-avoidance in recent years.

One moment you are peacefully wending your way down the pedestrianised concourse, the next you are fending off an overzealous 20-something who is essentially implying you are abetting global starvation by ignoring them.

Another reason chuggers have not endeared themselves to others is the arsenal of irksome gambits they employ to lure people into conversation.

My personal bête noir is the ploy where a chugger affects a jaunty pose and waits for an approaching victim as if they were an old friend. That or making false enquiries about how your day is going before moving seamlessly into an emotionally blackmailing patter.

And it would seem I am not alone, as reports of the crackdown disgorged an outpouring of annoyance and ire from Watford residents on social media this week.

The fact these collectors’ nickname, chuggers, is shorthand for “charity muggers” tells you all you need to know about the esteem in which they are held by the British public.

Despite the unpopularity of “chuggers”, charities show no sign of dispensing with this aggressive method of fundraising. The attraction is clear: direct debits provide charities with a stable stream of revenue compared to one-off donations and ad hoc philanthropy.

That does not change the fact charities are using the goodwill naturally afforded them as cover for commercially sharp practices.

Nevertheless, the anger towards chuggers on display in the town over the last week is not a reflection of people’s willingness to give to charity. A cursory leaf through any edition of the Watford Observer will unearth scores of people undertaking well-meaning and often gruelling challenges to raise money for charities. Often these people have been motivated by personal experience.

Unfortunately, the council’s crackdown will not remove chuggers from the town centre completely. Under the new regime they will be kettled to High Street between Clarendon Road and Kings Street.

The main reason chuggers have been allowed free reign until now is because the law is ambiguous about them.

The method only came into use in 1997 and since then councils have largely treated them as any other charity collection. The council’s reforms seek to differentiate between chuggers and more traditional bucket-shaking charity collections and regulate the former more stringently.

The crackdown seems to have been almost universally welcomed and possibly does not go far enough. More than 80 per cent of readers who took part in our online poll wanted to see them banned completely. At Tuesday’s meeting, councillors said a complete ban was not legally feasible, although more than a few seemed amenable to the idea.

This week has shown public and political mood, in this small part of the country anyway, wants to see this detested fundraising practice eradicated entirely.

But as long as chuggers make money for charities, they look set to remain a scourge of British high streets.

Comments (5)

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1:04pm Fri 21 Mar 14

Cuetip says...

They are too many and it's nice to have a friendly greeting but more often than not, people are often scampering to fit in their shopping before their two free hours at Sainsbury incurs a fine.

We must lose sight that alot of these collectors work for well established and highly thought of charities. They are often relatively young and can be seen in all sorts of weather conditions and as we all know, unemployment in this age group remains relatively high.

There is also the knock on effect that some of own established local charities may lose out as we reach exhaustion point in giving.

Let's not knock them too hard as this often their only real chance of employment and in some instances it is their first step on the employment ladder.

Good luck everyone and I suppose some of these politicians would rather give you the opportunity to wade through their incoming tonnage of election leaflets filled with all their promises and the obligatory photo ops
and if you are unlucky a knock on the door whilst you are having a rest or getting the children to sleep.

There is one party that actually uses these youngsters and even newly arrived in the country. They call it work with maybe experience.

We need to get the balance right and currently there are too many for us to cope with on our very cluttered high street.
They are too many and it's nice to have a friendly greeting but more often than not, people are often scampering to fit in their shopping before their two free hours at Sainsbury incurs a fine. We must lose sight that alot of these collectors work for well established and highly thought of charities. They are often relatively young and can be seen in all sorts of weather conditions and as we all know, unemployment in this age group remains relatively high. There is also the knock on effect that some of own established local charities may lose out as we reach exhaustion point in giving. Let's not knock them too hard as this often their only real chance of employment and in some instances it is their first step on the employment ladder. Good luck everyone and I suppose some of these politicians would rather give you the opportunity to wade through their incoming tonnage of election leaflets filled with all their promises and the obligatory photo ops and if you are unlucky a knock on the door whilst you are having a rest or getting the children to sleep. There is one party that actually uses these youngsters and even newly arrived in the country. They call it work with maybe experience. We need to get the balance right and currently there are too many for us to cope with on our very cluttered high street. Cuetip
  • Score: -10

1:44pm Fri 21 Mar 14

G_Whiz says...

You only have to look at how much these charity bosses get paid to realise that charity, these day's is just another business.

I'm always alarmed when i see their end if year results. How much money goes on wages, expenses, offices, and miscellaneous! - usually around 10% actually goes to where i would want it to go!

Such a shame some people take the 'Charity' Moral high ground, when they actually are just taking us for mugs!

Before you give - do your research, some charities are much better than others! And many already have millions in the Bank!
You only have to look at how much these charity bosses get paid to realise that charity, these day's is just another business. I'm always alarmed when i see their end if year results. How much money goes on wages, expenses, offices, and miscellaneous! - usually around 10% actually goes to where i would want it to go! Such a shame some people take the 'Charity' Moral high ground, when they actually are just taking us for mugs! Before you give - do your research, some charities are much better than others! And many already have millions in the Bank! G_Whiz
  • Score: 13

11:15pm Fri 21 Mar 14

LSC says...

There is charity and charity. I work for one, so I know a bit!

I had a guy knock on my door a few weeks ago (and they are the ones I hate most) and he asked for a donation. I politely declined, saying that I never give at the door. Like G_Whiz above, I like to know where my donation goes, and some guy waving a credit card sized ID around for a charity I'd never even heard of isn't enough.

The man then spat out the line: 'Oh, so you don't care about starving children then?'

I kept my temper and shut the door, but only just. I can only imagine what little old ladies might do in the face of that sort of bullying.
There is charity and charity. I work for one, so I know a bit! I had a guy knock on my door a few weeks ago (and they are the ones I hate most) and he asked for a donation. I politely declined, saying that I never give at the door. Like G_Whiz above, I like to know where my donation goes, and some guy waving a credit card sized ID around for a charity I'd never even heard of isn't enough. The man then spat out the line: 'Oh, so you don't care about starving children then?' I kept my temper and shut the door, but only just. I can only imagine what little old ladies might do in the face of that sort of bullying. LSC
  • Score: 3

9:43pm Sat 22 Mar 14

alfons says...

Perhaps banning these collectors from the Town Centre is the reason we seem to be getting more of them at the door. I don't give to them because the money you give goes first to the company they work for, not the charity itself. And I would not give anything again to a charity that uses such methods.
Perhaps banning these collectors from the Town Centre is the reason we seem to be getting more of them at the door. I don't give to them because the money you give goes first to the company they work for, not the charity itself. And I would not give anything again to a charity that uses such methods. alfons
  • Score: 2

5:52pm Sun 23 Mar 14

Wacko Jacko says...

A very good article by Mike Wright and good to see a general consensus around this issue. The big charities who use this offensive form of coercion to raise funds need to look hard at their ethical position. They are rapidly turning into the equivalent of double glazing salesmen of the past who used similar high pressure tactics to close a deal. Time was when organisations like Oxfam were small charities who operated largely with volunteer workers and most of their money went to people in need. Nowadays charities are big business with highly paid managers and a dwindling proportion of funds raised actually arrives at the point of need.
Perhaps if more towns adopted Watford's stance the charities would review their methods and find more socially acceptable ways to raise funds.
A very good article by Mike Wright and good to see a general consensus around this issue. The big charities who use this offensive form of coercion to raise funds need to look hard at their ethical position. They are rapidly turning into the equivalent of double glazing salesmen of the past who used similar high pressure tactics to close a deal. Time was when organisations like Oxfam were small charities who operated largely with volunteer workers and most of their money went to people in need. Nowadays charities are big business with highly paid managers and a dwindling proportion of funds raised actually arrives at the point of need. Perhaps if more towns adopted Watford's stance the charities would review their methods and find more socially acceptable ways to raise funds. Wacko Jacko
  • Score: -1

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