There I was, coming out of the Tube and walking down the road, when I was accosted … The litany of complaints about "chuggers" – the young band of street fund-raisers – has reached the point where one might be forgiven for thinking these brightly-clad students were a grave threat to public order.
Chugging is the most "in yer face" means of collecting money for development, environmental and other charities. It can be, and for anyone in a hurry invariably is, incredibly annoying. Only last week I was approached by a young woman who side-skipped half a dozen paces to tell me what a nice person I was. This statement was so unlikely to be true that I harrumphed and told her with a sideways tilt of my shoulder that I was far too busy to talk.
According to school-leavers and university summer-vacationers I know who have done this, I fall into the classic grump category – professional men of a certain age. The people most likely to give are other young people and mums with children (I gender stereotype advisedly). You are more likely to get a tolerant hearing in Greenford than in Green Park, where they are on their way to their hedge fund offices or auction houses.
It is no surprise that multinational charities, such as Oxfam, are reconsidering their relationship with the companies that run the schemes. Strict rules are supposed to be in place: you are not allowed to move more than two steps to approach someone; you are not supposed to flirt or touch or begin to criticise someone who marches on. If you have failed to sign anyone up, having been on your feet all day, the temptation to go too far is considerable.
The two issues that the charities should look at most are the proportion of money they accrue from such exercises and the potential damage to the message. The chuggers often have no idea who they are representing until they turn up for work. According to the Institute of Fundraising, which is leading the re-think, last year 865,000 people signed up for long-term giving – providing £130m for good causes. For sure, tighten the rules and monitor chuggers better (by that I don't mean a further descent into authoritarian policing), but does anyone but Mr Grump gain by a ban or draconian restrictions? I've had to run fundraising for two organisations – neither suited chugging. Most charities rely on a mix of high net worth individuals (how I abhor that phrase, but find myself using it), large foundations, donation boxes, email campaigns, word of mouth and more. It is a constant slog and easy to make mistakes. It is far easier, however, to walk on the other side, muttering and spluttering as you make your way into the coffee shop for your daily latte.
John Kampfner is author of 'Blair's Wars' and 'Freedom For Sale'.
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