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A couple of months ago, I was on my way back from a business advisory meeting with Business Gateway (for anyone starting a business in Scotland, they’re a great first resource), and I made the mistake of stopping to talk to a street fundraiser. Actually, it wasn’t him that I’d stopped to talk to, I just wanted to pick up a leaflet from the side of the road, but he caught me off guard. What followed was an awkward conversation about money and guide dogs. Well, he didn’t seem to know much about guide dogs so it was mostly just him trying to make me feel bad when I said that I couldn’t afford to give money.
‘I’m sorry, I don’t really have any money right now.’
‘That’s okay. You don’t have to give money right now. We’ll sign you up for a direct debit.’
‘What I mean is, I don’t have a lot of money. I’m not making a lot, but once I am, I’ll donate to British Guide Dogs!’
‘It’s £20 a month. That’s not much. Come on, you have £20 a month, it’s not much at all!’ …and so on.
I ended up backing away, as he scowled at my stinginess. I felt bad about this all day but, the fact is, £20 is more than my phone bill, which I am struggling to keep on top of as it is. So, like many other people, I found myself questioning whether or not fundraisers (or ‘chuggers’, as some people call them) need to exist in this profession. These are my thoughts:
Everyone needs money
Having applied for – and failed to get – a charity fundraising job, I know that it can be tough. So, working as a street fundraiser for £8 an hour, in a minimum wage job market, may seem like a godsend. Some people criticise the fact that street fundraisers get paid money for doing the job (instead of it being from the heart), which I think is wrong. Those people need to realise that consistently working for free is a luxury, and one often reserved for the young and the old; everyone needs to eat, pay bills, rent, and just… well… live. We need to talk about how expensive living is.
Are they effective?
When I applied to charity fundraising positions with Oxfam and British Red Cross, I was informed that, for every £1 these charities spend on hiring people like us, fundraisers bring in £5 – therefore they are effective. I haven’t, however, found any statistics online to back this up so the question still exists.
One common criticism of this type of fundraising is the tactics that people, like the man that I spoke to, are encouraged to employ. In 2015, there was a lot of media coverage of these tactics potentially leading to the death of Olive Cooke. There were calls for a new regulatory body to take charge, keeping an eye on how charities operate their fundraising activities.
In reality, a lot of this is nuanced; getting people to donate money in a cash-strapped society is tough work. It’s easy to point a finger and say that ‘chuggers’ shouldn’t exist at all, but until someone comes up with a sensible solution, it may seem that they’re the most reliable way that charities can raise money. Although, I do enjoy the irony of a charity engaging in unethical practices.
Maddy is a freelance illustrator who lives in Glasgow. She's recently graduated and is working hard to make ends meet. Self-employed? Read Maddy's experiences here.