Comment | In praise of the 'chuggers'

High streets up and down the country are populated with what are pejoratively called “chuggers” (charitable muggers) who ask you to give money for a good cause whilst getting paid a wage. The extremely negative reactions to these usually cheery students betray a very interesting worldview. By way of comparison, the person handing out McDonald’s vouchers is earning a wage and is gaining business for his restaurant; yet he gets no grief from the general public. As a general point, paying people to promote and fund-raise for a charity strikes us as a misuse of funds; “I paid to help tackle breast cancer, not to fund adverts” we seem to cry out.

It’s the same thought process that leads us to believe high pay in the not-for-profit sector is wrong. This is a flawed intellectual framework that inhibits fundraising growth.

On the 6th August the Charity Commission warned that large salaries “paid to charity staff could bring the charitable world into disrepute”.

Why? Save the Children have two executives paid more than £160,000 a year, and over the last five years have presided over the doubling of the charity’s fundraising, from £161m to £284m. The average salary for a charity chief executive was £58,000 in this country, whereas the average salary among the 100 biggest companies in the UK was £4.8m. Who would be willing to make such a drastic cut in pay to run even a large charity like Save the Children? As Dan Pallotta, creator of the Aids Rides in the US which raised more than $105 million for aids services put it: “It’s an [intellectual] apartheid that discriminates against the non-profit sector… We have a visceral reaction to the idea that people would make very much money helping other people, interestingly we don’t have a visceral reaction to people not helping other people.”

Charities need to prioritise the cause over everything else. It’d be better for a £100,000 donation to be given to a fundraising team who then multiply it in to millions of pounds rather than giving that £100,000 straight to researchers. The truth is that we don’t like money we give to charity to be used in expanding the size of the charity because we want to feel good about the good we’re doing in the world: but if we don’t focus on maximising the good our money does and instead maximise our sense of achievement, we inhibit charities investing in themselves. If we stop charities investing in themselves we will inhibit the growth of these charities and when we inhibit growth we’re actually stopping the charities overcoming the problems we desperately need to solve.

So ask yourself, when a chugger asks you for a £5 monthly donation, think that if it pays their wage for one hour and if they can get as little as £15 during that hour they’ve already tripled the good your £5 would have done. So don’t give them grief, give them your money.

 Lawrence Thompson

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