Friday, September 23, 2011

I can't stand 'chuggers'

In the UK there's a form of fundraising for charities that places people on busy streets and has them approach people asking for money. These people are called 'chuggers' (a contraction of charity and mugger). There's an association called the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association that regulates these folks.

On their web site they have a section called Do you object to chuggers? with a collection of questions and answers. I find one particularly galling because it gets at the heart of the matter in precisely the annoying and slightly aggressive manner in which chuggers operate.

It's People have a right to walk down the street without being asked to give to charity.

It begins:
Sorry if we sound a bit blunt, but, do they, actually? We frequently hear versions of this argument, with people saying they have a right to go about their daily business without being approached by a ‘chugger’.

We don’t want to come across as being flippant and dismissive, but we really think the basis of this whole argument requires closer examination. Where does this ‘right’ come from?
See, there's the sort of pushy handling you'd expect from an organization that encourages people to bother people in the middle of the street while they are going about their private business.

Here's the core of the argument:
It’s a free country and people have a right go about their business. However, no-one suggests that people have a right to walk down their high street without being approached by a paper vendor, a Big Issue seller, a market researcher or even a charity cash collector, because these people also have a right to go about their business. So why is there are perceived right not to be asked to give to charity by an F2F fundraiser?
OK, so let's break those down.

Charity cash collectors (and here I'm thinking of the people who sell poppies for Remembrance, the Salvation Army with their buckets, and people who stand around collecting for Children in Need) do not, in my experience, call out to people in the street, stand in the way of the flow of people, or directly approach and ask people to stop and talk to them. They do stand around and shake their buckets of coins, or sing, or otherwise attract attention to themselves in a manner that is easily ignored. This is also true of people who sell The Big Issue. They tend to stand around and call out that they have The Big Issue. Comparing chuggers and these two groups is disrespectful of the way in which charity cash collectors and Big Issue sellers operate.

I work in central London and so I see paper vendors and free sheet distributors everyday. They do not call out to people and ask them to stop. They are either standing calling out that they have a paper, or are holding out copies for people to take. Not at all the same thing as a chugger standing in the middle of the High St. asking people to stop.

The one group that is close to the chugger is the market researcher and if they were anything like as prevalent as chuggers then I'd object to them also.

Lastly, whether they have the 'right' to do it or not doesn't mean that I shouldn't also have the right to object to being stopped and bothered in this manner.

After reading all the questions and answers the web site asks Do you still object to chuggers? and finishes with:
You might not like being asked to give by a ‘chugger’. But at least 600,000 people a year have no objection at all.
I'm going to assume that they mean 600,000 people gave to chuggers in a year. That's not the same as no objection at all. They might well have been upset about being approached but feel unable to refuse.

Let's get real about chuggers. They're a pain, and whether there's a 'right' to behave in that manner or not I'd be happy to see them off our streets. The only reason they get away with their presence and behaviour is that they are asking people to give to good causes.

Now imagine a situation where some other group was allowed to harrass people in this manner. Can you imagine it being OK for a political party to stop people continuously to talk about its policies? How about a particular church that wants you to hear its message? What about a major corporation that wants to tell you about its products?

"Hey, how you doing? Do you have a minute of your time so that I can tell you about the new Apple iPhone 5?"

That wouldn't be acceptable.

But the real reason I dislike chuggers is that they interrupt me, and when I am walking down the street alone I am thinking. The noises of the street and pavement are background and I am able to allow my mind to wander. The chuggers break that by addressing me directly, or by forcing me to realize they are there and avoid them.

So, the chugger cost to me is intellectual.

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