Nonprofit Newswire | Do You Have One Minute To Save the World?

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March 10, 2010, Civil Society | Are you or have you ever been a “chugger”? That’s the question in Edinburgh, Scotland, where the firm that manages the city center for local businesses, probably the equivalent of a merchants association in the U.S., wants the authorities to ask about the fresh-faced charity fundraisers that tap shoppers for donations to their charity sponsors. In the U.S., we see “chuggers” (the term The Scotsman used in an editorial, short apparently for charitable mugger) as the young canvassers with clipboards and sign-up petitions that typically lead to a request for a contribution. Interestingly, there is an agency in Scotland—the Public Fundraising Regulatory Authority—that regulates street fundraising. The head of the PFRA hasn’t apparently been contacted by the downtown business firm (Essential Edinburgh) and its executive director says that there have been few complaints and no evidence that the chuggers deter people from shopping. There’s actually much more to this issue than the business reaction against charitable fundraisers and others in front of their shops and stores. In 2006, Dana Fisher wrote a very controversial book about the low pay and horrible working conditions of young political canvassers (Activism, Inc.: How the Outsourcing of Grassroots Campaigns Is Strangling Progressive Politics in America). We suspect that the kids who tap shoppers in downtown Edinburgh or in front of Borders in Washington D.C.’s Friendship Heights area are paid and treated little better than the political canvassers Fisher described working for the People’s Project in 2003. How much above or below minimum wage are these canvassers paid? What do they accomplish for their charities? At the Pentagon City shopping mall a few weeks ago, we encountered canvassers pitching the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. Was the UNHCR looking for donations? Were the young people at the UNHCR table informed enough to speak to the dimensions of the refugee problems that the agency addresses, frequently amidst great controversy? We suspect that charitable fundraisers are not the chuggers that The Scotsman finds so objectionable. But we also suspect that some of these young canvassers are deployed as cheap labor and, in the U.S., with little regulatory oversight by anything comparable to the PFRA.—Rick Cohen

  • Bob McInnis

    We don’t need snippets of rehearsed conversation, test closes and sales asks and another close attempt representing the sector. Fund development, volunteer recruitment and meaningful solutions come from bring people into proximity to the issue and developing a relationship. It doesn’t happen by ‘saving the world in a minute’, tossing a few dollars/pounds in a bucket or being guilted into contributing a tenner and forgetting about the cause. I support organizations whose mission I understand and respect. I don’t/won’t engage in meaningless conversations that guarantee to release me from my real responsibilities in my community.

  • rick cohen

    I think that is the point of Fisher’s book on political canvassing. In a way, it’s not educational for the canvasser and the canvassee. Thanks for the comment.

  • Mick Aldridge

    Oh Dear! Someone has certainly got the wrong end of the stick with this report. The PFRA (‘association’, not ‘authority’), which I direct is the UK-wide (not just Scotland) not-for-profit self-regulator for all forms of face-to-face fundraising (Yes, sometimes called “chugging”). We were set up 10 years ago by the Institute of Fundraisng (UK equivalent to the AFP) and we operate with the support of central government, and city councils, across the country. Our national Code ensures that all staff are paid handsomely (on average between 150-200% minimum wage) and there is a proven career path into ‘mainstream’ (office-based) fundraising. Around 700,000 people a year, each and every year, sign up to good causes across the UK and this raised approximately

  • rick cohen

    Thank you for the correction. We’re suffering a cultural and geographic gap here. We appreciate your weighing in. Would that we had an entity here ensuring that streetcorner fundraisers were being paid handsomely on paths to proven careers. Thanks again for the correction.