January 24, 2007

I've just been 'chugged'. The word is a combination of 'charity' and 'mugging', and is now used by marketing professionals for the practice of stopping passers-by on the pavement, engaging them in conversation and then trying to get them to commit to giving money (mostly on a long-term, direct-debit basis) to a charity.

It leaves me with very mixed feelings. The charity concerned (Oxfam), is one whose aims I broadly support. I just object to being made to feel guilty and uncomfortable while going about my business. Sure, a polite 'no thankyou' is all that's required, but today for some reason I was engaged in conversation - I'm not sure quite why. Perhaps it was that we were in the middle of Brussels and the 'chugger' concerned spoke to me spontaneously in Dutch, the minority language here, rather than French or - heaven forfend - airport English.

Of course, once you've started the conversation you're like a lobster in a pot. You're skilfully manipulated into a situation where the only face-saving option is signing on the dotted line. But I'm glad to say that I didn't. Not that I don't want to give money to charity. I do, especially now that I'm earning again after that year spent retraining. It's just that *I* want to decide when, and how, and how much. And in my own good time. Not by being made to feel guilty on a pavement.

Posted by Eurodan at January 24, 2007 11:51 AM

The main argument I've heard put forward by supporters of chugging seems to be that despite its high cost (the oft quoted statistic is that on average the charity makes no money out of the first year of any direct debit) this form of fund-raising is very effective as it generates a large number of new donors, and it's all for a good cause - so what's the problem?

I have a number of problems with this. Firstly, I'm not keen on inefficiency. The pro-chuggers seem only to consider the part of the equation that directly relates to them in the short term: how much they raise less how much it costs them. This fails to take into account the cost to donors and any longer term impact on giving that this approach may have. I seriously doubt that face-to-face fund-raising dramatically increases the overall value of charitable donations. I suspect that there is a "robbing Peter to pay Paul" effect at work here, with these extra donations (and the consequent fees to the chugging agency) coming at least partly at the expense of contributions to other charities employing less aggressive forms of solicitation. The experience of being "chugged" may also lead to victims becoming more reluctant to donate in future.

Secondly, many chuggers employ somewhat aggressive and underhand techniques that in some cases would make a con man proud. Apart from verging on the immoral, this has the unfortunate effect of signing up a disproportionate number of vulnerable people who are unable to resist the pressure to sign up, despite possibly being in need of charitable help themselves.

Thirdly, I don't think that it is an unreasonable expectation that one should be able to walk unmolested along the high street without the need to dodge inappropriately familiar approaches from total strangers, engage in verbal battles to justify your desire to go about your daily business without hindrance or be subject to techniques designed to make you feel guilty and bad about yourself for not immediately entering into a commitment to give money to a cause you haven't chosen.

Finally, if any tactic that raises more money for charity is a good thing, then why not go the whole hog and induce people to sign a direct debit mandate at gunpoint, taking their wallets, mobile phones and jewellery for good measure?

In my books, this sort of thing is little different from junk mail and spam. It works in some short term, short sighted way for one party but wastes everyone else's time, energy and money and makes the world a more irritating and unpleasant place to live.

Here endeth the rant.

Posted by: Shyboy at January 25, 2007 8:17 PM

Well put! That's what I intended to say. Please take over the blog. ;-)

Posted by: Eurodan at January 25, 2007 10:45 PM

Hi, I was just doing a little "histo-surfing" - you know, where you put in names and places from your dim and distant past - and I found this site. Are you the same Dan that used to live in Hessle many moons ago?

Posted by: PJ at February 11, 2007 4:23 PM

Yes, indeed I am. That was indeed many moons ago! Have we met?

Posted by: eurodan at February 12, 2007 9:29 PM

Yes we have met. I used to live in Hull back then (gosh, doing the mental arithmetic, it is more years than I care to remember or admit). Our paths crossed briefly as part of some ill-fated social endeavor. I have often wondered what you ended up doing and happened upon your site a few weeks ago. I live in Washington, DC now. I would love to hear from you at gemelomalvado@yahoo.com. Take care. PJ.

Posted by: PJ at February 13, 2007 12:56 AM
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