Saturday, August 13, 2016

The chugger on my doorstep

(First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail, August 10.)

I was working at home the other day when there was a confident, assertive knock on the front door.

I opened it to find a young man (well, young to me) wearing a badge and bib that identified him as representing a well-known rescue service-cum-medical emergency charity which I won’t identify.

It was a bitterly cold day and he was soaking wet, but that didn’t stop him from launching straight into an obviously well-rehearsed spiel.

He first wanted to know whether I or any of my family had ever been helped by the charity he represented. I’m sure that if I’d answered yes, there would have been subtle emotional pressure to support this worthy cause. After all, they’d helped me; now it would be my chance to repay the favour.

As it happened, I’d never used the service, so he struck out there. But without missing a beat, he moved on to option two.  

He proceeded to tell me that the charity was in dire financial straits and its continued operation was in doubt unless it promptly raised a very large sum of money. This was urgent; the implication was that lives would be lost if I didn't immediately agree to contribute. 

He went on to say that he’d been canvassing the area and my neighbours had readily signed up. I was a little sceptical because many of them aren’t home during the day. Anyway, from my knowledge of them, I can’t imagine they would commit to support a charity off the cuff.

I wasn’t prepared to, either. I told him that I would consider contributing because it was a worthy cause, but I wasn’t prepared to make any commitment right there on the spot. I explained that I already supported a range of charities and had to consider whether I could afford any more. I did say, however, that I would go to the charity’s website and possibly make a donation there.

He then asked me my name so he could enter it in his digital device. Up till now I had been relaxed about this intrusion. I felt sorry for him because he must have been wretchedly cold. But at this point I stiffened and adopted a sharper tone.

“I’ve already made it clear to you,” I said, “that I’m prepared to consider giving money, but I’m not going to make a commitment here and now.” He pretended to be surprised, but obviously sensed there was no point in pursuing the matter. He said a polite goodbye and left.

I was left with a feeling of disquiet. The charity he was soliciting for operates an essential and very highly regarded service. I couldn’t imagine that it would approve of anyone going around the neighbourhood using a subtle form of emotional pressure and a slick line of patter more typical of a door-to-door vacuum-cleaner salesman.

I made a reasonably substantial donation anyway, but while on the charity’s website I also sent them a message explaining what had happened. I said I took exception to his reference to my neighbours signing up – the implication being that I would be a flint-hearted stinge if I didn’t do the same.

I said I didn’t believe this was the image the charity wanted to present to the public, which is why I was taking the trouble to notify them. (So far, I haven't heard back, so perhaps they approve after all.)

The man on my doorstep was a “chugger” – a charity mugger. These are people who are paid to solicit donations from the public, either by approaching them in the street or by going house to house.

They represent an unsavoury development in the charity business (and I use that word deliberately). There are now so many charitable organisations competing for a limited pool of donations that they are adopting increasingly aggressive tactics which in this case, I believe, bordered on unethical.

The chuggers are not volunteers with an emotional stake in the cause they are collecting for, as many naïve people assume. They are hired guns who presumably earn a commission for everyone who succumbs to their persuasive powers.

But chuggers are not the only reasons many charities are getting a bad name. People also rightly object to being bombarded with endless emails and letters asking for more. When you make a one-off donation, you don’t sign up to receive these communications. But they come anyway.

What I find almost equally objectionable are the patronising, emotive and sometimes infantile terms with which some of these appeals are worded. I have been a regular contributor to the Red Cross for years but I considered stopping my donations when I received an envelope from them emblazoned with the words “You’re amazing, Karl!”.

Does the typical Red Cross donor respond to such patently false ingratiation? I doubt it.

What all this shows is the extent to which the charitable sector has been hijacked by hard-nosed, professional fund-raisers and PR hacks who probably don’t give a toss about the causes they’re raising money for, or the damage they might be doing to their public image. It’s something charities need to address and deal with, before loyal donors switch off.


Glenn Webster said...

Had a very similar one find his way down to my place.
Which makes him only the 5th door knocker in almost 9 years.
(Note to self. Feed the gate sphinx next year.)
Since I nurse a strong resentment against St.Johns' for sending me a bill before their customer was cold he got a polite but negative reception for the first two reply's followed,when he became tedious,by an invitation to get the fuck off the property before I lost my temper.
St. Johns are a business masquerading as a charity.
I would love to see the government add ambulance services to an integrated fire/rescue/ service and run them out of town.
And don't tell me what selfless people they are.
The workers are-the management are overpaid parasites.

paul scott said...

Karl thought, oh well, reputable charity, long standing, yes, I’ll pay him now and check to see if they know the tactics being used.
If they can not get volunteers to collect, they are not big on charity, but an emerging business.
Yes they do know that their door knockers are manipulative and aggressive, but we do not answer phones too much, and if we do, We make sure the paid operator can gasp with astonishment.
As with businesses some charities become bureaucratic and disreputable.
I hear IHC is on the way out. Some readers may remember Corso. .
And would you have New Zealand front money to Haiti through the Clinton foundation again.
Greenpeace wars against humanity anyone /?
St John is moving into the suspicious category. Yes I know they are good, and business like.

Its doubly disturbing because all this relies on your sense of goodness and altruism.
These door knockers are bad. Some are so false they will attempt to get inside to look around.
No dog, works between 10am and 4pm, street quiet.Tick .
I think we should refuse them all.
If charity can not do better than this, and will not answer its phone I say no.

Max Ritchie said...

There's a difference between business-like (we should be - admission here: I work for a charity) and this sort of hard-sell for a commission. I absolutely oppose this sort of approach - mugging by another name, even if often in a good cause. Our job is to achieve an outcome for the donor, whether it's helping the homeless or looking after refugees etc (there's a lot of options!). In our case it's neurological research and we ensure that every penny is spent wisely and for what the donor intended. Bothering strangers in the street or on their doorstep is not the way to do it.

Karl du Fresne said...

Paul's comment raises another issue: the creeping takeover of what were previously well-respected, volunteer-based organisations by well-paid (and often ideologically driven) professionals. IHC is a good example.
Incidentally, more than two weeks have passed since I emailed the charity mentioned in my column/blog and I have heard nothing back. This indicates to me that they either approve, at least tacitly, of the chugger's emotionally manipulative tactics or simply don't care. In view of their lack of courtesy I'm happy to identify the charity as the Life Flight Trust.

hughvane said...

One day you may care to tackle the topic of 'charity ambush' for which I now offer the term 'chambushers' to match 'chuggers'.

Chambushers are the earnest young men & women who set up a small podium or table and chairs at the entrance to a shopping mall, a supermarket, or a hardware store, to ambush the public as they go about their business. The cause initially is usually not to beg donations, although that often eventuates, but to seek support for a cause. Their first tactic is to make eye contact, proffer a plastic smile, and then to ask the ubiquitous "hi there, how's your day going, can I interest you in ….., or would you like to support …..?"

Personally, I am sick and tired of them, they are a nuisance, and their brainwashed mindset is such that they cannot conceive that Joe or Josephine Public may not have money to spare, or that they already support a host of other worthy causes. I used to say "no, thank you". I now leave out the last two words, or ignore them. My hat covers the burn holes in the back of my skull.