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This Britain

Being Modern: Chuggers

It's Tuesday lunchtime, you're wandering down the street – but who's this doing a moonwalk in front of you, trying to shake your hand? Clipboard, sheepish grin, over-sized Day-Glo tabard – oh gawd, a chugger... What to do? Blank them? Give it your best pavement swerve and a quick "Sorry..."? Or stop, engage and happily sign up for a direct debit to Save the Griffin?

Unlikely as this may sound, given the notoriety of "charity muggers", there's a fair chance it's the latter. According to the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association, nearly a fifth of all charity direct debits can be traced to a shameless charity mugging/successful face-to-face fund-raising transaction (delete as you see fit). In other words, chugging works: 600,000 of us sign up to charity this way annually, donating £130m.

But it would seem it's an encounter mired in resentment. Two thirds of respondents in a 2009 survey said they would cross the road to avoid a chugger – because no one likes to reminded of needy giraffes just as they're about to buy an iPad. And half of those who do sign up cancel their direct debits within a year.

Nor do people like the fact that many chuggers are paid: on average, each donation costs a charity between £80 and £160, meaning the first year or so of an average giver's donations won't get to their charity of choice.

All of which would seem to suggest that "charity" means two very different things to givers and fundraisers. It's tempting to imagine that the former imagine charities meekly standing by, grateful for any donation freely given (the reason charity tin-shakers do, indeed, stand meekly by is that they're not permitted to button-hole passers-by). The latter are pinched by public-spending cuts at one end and a hard-up donating public at the other – the modern charity must chug or, one imagines, die.

But still, this is a one-way street: it's up to the charities to educate us, and though it might cost them hard-earned cash to do so, more of us might happily stop for a spot of high-street charity tango.