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It’s not pretty, but it works – Why charities use street fundraisers

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance but is vital to charities in the UK

Charity muggers - chuggers - at work on the high streets

Charity begins at home,” runs the mantra, and at times almost everyone must have wished for some benevolent benefactor to help them in some way. It is hard to get worked up about famine in Africa, or deforestation in Indonesia when you’re worried about how you’ll afford your winter heating bills.

But these issues are being thrown in the face of shoppers on high streets across the country. Typically touted by long-haired, ever-smiling youths, charities have taken over the streets to win over the hearts and minds of the British public. Commonly dubbed ‘chugging’ (charity mugging), the voluntary sector calls it face-to-face-fundraising.

Almost everyone has gotten annoyed with being harangued in the street. Why anyone would think that because you’re carry a dozen heavy bags, soaked to the skin in the rain, and powering home that you want to stop and discuss world poverty is a mystery. But teams of fundraisers are spread across the country on a daily basis trying to bring supporters into their fold.

It has now come to a head in Islington. Councillor Paul Convery, Islington Council’s executive member for planning, regeneration and parking, has spoken out against the sheer number of fundraisers operating in the Borough.

People regard it as excessive and a nuisance,” he says. “We’re not talking about hundreds of thousands, but scores of complaints.”

The majority of people of Islington seem tired of charity fundraising in their area. A recent Daily Telegraph poll suggests that 58 per cent of people want it banned in London.

Out on Upper Street, my quick stroll poll found that 64 people thought there were too many fundraisers in Islington, compared to 26 who didn’t. Leaving 10 per cent who said they didn’t think there were more in Islington than anywhere else.

Cllr Convery is clear that they do not want to ban street chugging. They are campaigning for it to be regulated by local authorities rather than independent organisations like the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA).

This is the only type of street canvassing that is regulated privately,” he says. “Every other type of on-the-street activity requires a license except fundraising.”

The PFRA liaises with councils and charities to decide where, when and how often fundraising can take place.

But all this chugger-bashing has obscured why people in out in the street in all weathers, day-in and day-out, in the first place: they are raising the necessary funds for charities to continue their work.

It can be annoying to be approached by a charity, but as PFRA spokesman Ian MacQuillian explains: “It’s a myth that people give to the charities they give to without being asked.”

He highlights that chuggers are not taking donations there and then, but signing members up to regular direct debit payments, pledges of a set amount on a regular basis. These are widely regarded by charities as the most effective way to monitor and budget their contributions. Fundraising in this way breaks-even after two or three years and can return £2.50 for every £1 invested.

PFRA figures show that during 2010-11 street fundraising brought in over 170,000 supporters to their charities. It shows that despite the huffing and puffing of councils and the public, a great many people do stop and contribute to chuggers.

Mike Blakemore, media director at Amnesty international UK says: “It is an important for all organisations and it provides an opportunity to speak to members of the public that we wouldn’t meet otherwise.”

Despite the chagrin that many people experience when approached on the street, Mr Blakemore says only 0.04 per cent of the people their fundraisers spoke to complained.

Amnesty stands firmly behind keeping the PFRA regulating street fundraising.

Council’s shouldn’t be able to decide which charities can fundraise,”says Mr Blakemore.

He believes that to shift regulation from the PFRA would lead to more expensive administration for councils, and could result in arbitary decisions about which charities could fundraise.

Many would argue that the decision to give or not is purely down to the individual. This sentiment is echoed by Mr Blakemore: “It is a very personal thing and people are capable of making that decision on their own.”

Islington Council and the PFRA are in talks over the issue in the Borough. But both, and many other interested parties are awaiting Lord Hodgson’s ongoing review of the 2006 Charities Act. At present he is listening to the parties involved and the general public, and after the consultation period ends in April his final report will be awaited with bated breath before the summer recess.

At a time when the economy is sagging and public sector funding is tight, it seems a no-brainer for councils to take on the regulation of charity fundraising. And with household income being squeezed from all directions, the decision to give or not give to charities might safely be left to the general public.

 

Charity fundraising is seen as a nuisance, but it is vital for charites

Chuggers at work on the UK's high streets

The Pro Bono Approach (feature published in University Business Jauary Issue)

It has never been unusual for students take part in voluntary or pro bono work, even if it is just to add some vital experience to their CV’s.

In a market with an ever increasing amount of graduates for a limited number of positions having hands-on experience on leaving university can have a massive influence on employers hiring decisions. What is more unusual is the way that some universities are now integrating this work into their curriculum.

The University of West England runs a legal clinic, Community Legal Advice and Representation Service (CLARS), in conjunction with the Citizens Advice Bureau. Over 200 students work with a team of academics to interview and advise locals on a range of legal issues.

Heading the project is Marcus Keppell-Palmer who has spoken exclusively to University Business regarding the integration of this scheme in to their course.

Mr Keppell-Palmer stated that UWE has recognised the value of incorporating work within students degrees and that they are hoping to incorporate more placements into the course structure.

He continues, saying that: “students who work in our Street Law project and in our Innocence project my use their experience as the basis of their year-long placement in our Law in Action placement module.”

Any student on the Barristers Course can claim a module of work if they work enough cases through CLARS..

They are not the only institution beginning to put practical placements on to the curriculum. The University of Birmingham has recently extended it’s Free legal Advice Group (FLAG), and at Oxford Brookes they are beginning to add one day a week placements to the accountancy course.

The Accounting for Charities: Engaging Students (ACES) scheme was launched in January 2010 between Brookes and Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action (OCVA), and it puts second year undergraduates into local charities to run their books.

Catherine Dilnot, senior lecturer at the Business School, has told University Business that the project has now been approved as an independent study module, incorporated into the BSc Accounting and Finance.

Whilst students currently participate in these schemes out of the goodness of their hearts and for their CV’s, but as more and more universities start to create links with both NPOs and private businesses it seems likely that more placements could be integrated in to degree courses.

 

Guide Dogs Not Children

Guide dogs not children, birds not the environment, lifeboats not human rights. People all over the UK seem more interested in the three former than the three latter, yet when push comes to shove children, the environment and human rights are an investment for the future that we cannot fail to neglect. I doubt anyone would claim to believe anything different, but when it comes to raising money for these charities we can see that where this sad trend might originate.

We’ve all been hassled on the high street by over-enthusiastic chuggers ( charity muggers, for those in the know ), and I’m sure we would love to give them the five minutes they need, if you weren’t carrying myriad shopping bags, late for work, or just looking forward to a drink in the pub. It’s even worse when they call you – it’s like a house invasion. People just don’t want to be told what’s going wrong with the world while they get on with their daily lives – fact!

This is why, when cold-called from Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, Cancer Research, or one of the one-hundred and seventy thousand, nine hundred and five registered charities in the UK listed by the NCVO ( National Council for Voluntary Organisations – http://www.ncvo-vol.org.uk ), people don’t want to hear about the problems these organisations are trying to solve. It tends to leave a blemish in peoples tidy lives, and this is why, on the street and over the phone people prefer to give money to guide-dogs, birds and lifeboats – maybe…

The cold, hard truth of the matter is that charities make a lot of money. The RSPB is the largest environmental charity in Europe. It has over a million members making regular donations, not to mention it’s lifetime members paying in excess of £900 for the privilege, plus all the one-off donations it receives. Each member pays approximately £36 for the year ( based on the minimum donation of £3 a month ), this would give the RSPB somewhere in the region of an annual income of £36 million a year! However, calling RSPB members on an uplift campaign ( asking, as politely as possible if they can raise their regular donations ) you will find quite a number of people who give a lot more than the minimum membership. If you average out donations at £5 a month the RSPB must make £60 million a year, and it gets this money by appealing to people’s sentiments about our national bird life. In fact, after checking the RSPBs’ Trustees’ annual report and accounts 2009 – http://www.rspb.org.uk/about/run/reportaccounts.aspx – I can tell you the RSPB raised £86.3 million all told, more than two thirds of which comes from donations, subscriptions and legacies.

This is fine, all things considered. I am a massive fan of the RSPB, and do not begrudge birds all over the world millions of pounds a year. It’s how this charity, and the Dogs Trust, and Guide Dogs for the Blind, can appeal to people’s sentiments to raise that money that irks me. Not because I feel anyone’s exploited, nor is it the charities fault. It is the fact that other charities, who do just as important work, can’t appeal to people in the same way. If you were called up out of the blue, and asked to set up a regular donation of £5 a month, being told that every £19,000 pays for a guide dog from infancy to adulthood, including full-training for dog and owner, you’d have to hate dogs to not want to help. However, if Friends of the Earth, an environmental charity called up, telling people that unless they help with £3 a month, the ozone layer would disappear, or the Amazon rainforest would be deforested in 2 years, or one of the many campaigns they run, it is far more likely they will do everything possible to not hear about it.

This all indicates that sponsoring a cuddly puppy, or protecting birds from oil slicks, are feel good issues that people all across the UK are willing to embrace with gusto, while children charities, environmental charities, and human rights charities, just don’t tell people anything quantifiable i.e. they can’t give a definite figure of how much money will make a difference. It is the suggestion of our responsibility that people don’t like, or the suggestion that they can help but are choosing not to, that really brings on the irritation. To be called and told you can help train more guide dogs doesn’t irritate in the same way as being told you are responsible for deforestation in the Amazon by buying palm-oil products, or factory farmed meat, but you can make amends, just help our charity with £3 a month. The other side of the coin is that they will say: “How does donating £3 a month do any good?” This is a very good question, because unlike guide dogs, environmental work has no fixed price. If Greenpeace could call up and say, “If we can raise £1 million we can stop deforestation, full stop, capital letter, new campaign,” then more people would probably be inclined to help. But the truth is they can’t, and this leaves people wondering how their money can help.

This is why people in the UK prefer to hear about animal charities, and environmental charities are left in the cold. We all know the state of the environment is our responsibility, but to be told this is irksome – it annoys me too, so don’t presume I’m on my high-horse. I know how annoying it is to be told something you know you should do but haven’t done yet, it’s just like your parents repeatedly telling you to clean your room when you complain you can’t find your favourite toy. You know you’ll find the toy when you clean your room, but the idea of cleaning your room is irritating, so is helping charities protect the environment. Because giving £3 a month does nothing unless you change your behaviour as well. You don’t have to change your life to feel good about giving money to Guide Dogs Trust, the RSPB or RNLI ( Royal National Lifeboat Institution ), because just in virtue of donating a little money you can feel like you’re making a difference. However, just giving £3 a month to FOE, or Greenpeace, or WWF, means nothing if you still drive a four-wheel drive in the city, or eat battery farmed eggs, or don’t bother to recycle.

When push comes to shove, children, the environment and human rights problems are not what we like to take the time to hear about. They can’t give a definite, be-all-and-end-all solution, nor can they tell you how much it will cost, in both hard currency and effort, nor can they tell you how long it will take. This is of course why, when someone says, it will cost you £3 a month, to help us raise £19,000 to train a guide dog for it’s life span ( say 10 years ), to help an individual blind person it is very easy to bring yourself to donate. But we must remember that the environment and human rights are for our children, and I hope people will agree that even if there is no deadline, nor quantifiable figure for protecting their future, it is definitely worth investment. The environment is under threat now, people’s human rights are being violated today, but with investment and effort they might not be tomorrow. Isn’t that what’s important?

 

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