This blog is written by Phillip Westwood and Lewis Hill of our Social Research Institute.
We’ve all been there before. You’re out shopping in a town or city centre, going about your business as usual. In the distance is a man or a woman wearing a bright jacket and a big smile, and they’re trying to get your attention. As you draw near you spot the charity logo on their coat. You fumble around in your pocket or handbag for your mobile phone to pretend to make a call, or if you’re quick enough you put on your headphones just in time and walk smugly past. If you’re too slow, then the chances are that you’re about to be collared by a so-called charity mugger, or chugger.
Chugging is the technique used by employees or volunteers of some charities who seek to procure donations for their organisation in public places. Recently, chugging has become subject to a fair amount of negative press attention in the British media. In June this year, an undercover investigation by the Sunday Telegraph revealed the ‘increasingly aggressive, intimidatory and potentially unlawful tactics’ of one organisation which supplies chuggers to charities1. The issue is covered in some detail in the Hodgson Report, which recommends a set of national guidelines to cover, among other things, the frequency and conduct of face-to-face collections, and that chuggers who solicit direct debit subscriptions should be brought into a licensing regime2.
But what do people actually think about fundraising methods used in England and Wales in 2012? Concern surrounding fundraising techniques used by charities is a strong theme in the 2012 public trust and confidence survey
which Ipsos MORI recently conducted for the Charity Commission
. Two thirds of the public agreed that some fundraising methods used by charities make me uncomfortable
(67%), a significant increase from the proportion who said this in the last wave of the survey conducted in 2010 (60%).
Fundraising techniques are a particular concern of older members of the English and Welsh public, as well as those in higher social grades. Whilst two thirds of the public overall agree that some methods used by charities make them feel uncomfortable, this rises to three quarters (75%) of those aged 55 or over and 72% of those in social classes AB. This contrasts with only half (54%) of young people aged 18-34 who agree that this is a concern, and one third (35%) disagree, compared with a quarter (25%) overall.
Fundraising techniques are now the third most commonly cited (and unprompted) reason for trusting some charities less than others; almost one in seven (14%) said that the reason for trusting some charities less than others was because they use fundraising techniques I don’t like
, a significant five percentage point increase on results from 2010.
In addition to all of this, a separate study conducted by Ipsos MORI for the Cabinet Office
shows that, as well as the increasing public concern about face-to-face fundraising methods, there is a question mark around its efficacy. Just six per cent of people say signing up to a direct debit off the street is their preferred method of making a donation to charity, while more than four in ten (41%) prefer to set up an ongoing direct debit or standing order themselves3
Furthermore, findings from The Public Fundraising Regulatory Association's (PFRA) annual attrition and retention survey suggest that a record number of three in ten (30%) of those who signed up in this way in 2011 failed to make a first payment4
. Yet with sign-up figures from the PFRA showing that almost 240,000 donors were recruited on the street in 2011/12, charities may be loath to abandon this lucrative form of fundraising.
Such has been the negative coverage of face-to-face fundraising methods that the Institute of Fundraising held a summit on Monday 23rd July to discuss, among other things, the consequences of the Sunday Telegraph’s investigation mentioned above5
. A tipping point seems to have been reached, with the future of face-to-face fundraising under closer scrutiny than ever.
Clearly the money charities receive from direct debits and standing orders is a vital source of income. While the public’s increasing concern about face-to-face fundraising methods is well documented, chuggers do play their part in maximising charities’ regular income. And while there is some evidence to suggest that the media’s focus on the integrity of fundraising methods is justified, it seems that, when thinking about charities, running the high street chugging gauntlet is not top of mind for the English and Welsh public.
With Lord Hodgson’s report making a number of recommendations intended to address public concern about face-to-face fundraising, perhaps now is the time for charities to begin to explore alternative ways of obtaining direct debit and standing order donations which sit more easily with the public.
2. The Hodgson Report and Ipsos MORI’s Public Perceptions of Charity can be downloaded from here: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/resource-library/trusted-and-independent-giving-charity-back-charities-review-charities-act-2006
3. Ipsos MORI Public Perceptions of Charity: A Report for the Charities Act 2006 review, p.51 (report can be found via link above)