Having spoken in the last entry of one type of money-wanting pest commonly encountered on the streets of our fair city, I think this entry I’m going to talk about another. Namely, the chuggers.
“Chugger” is a neologism, a portmanteau of “charity” and “mugger.” For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, chuggers are those terribly enthusiastic young people who try to stop you in the street in order to get you to sign up for their charity. If you walk along any major street in London, you can expect to encounter at least six, provided you stay on the same side of the road. They’re unavoidable.
The idea is that they tell you a bit about their charity and then persuade you to sign up to give so much per month. Young people are favourite, as the idea is that they will be alive longer and therefore give more overall. Yes, that is the honest truth. Chuggers are supposed to avoid the under-18s and those in full-time education, but I recall when I was a student (admittedly this was at least five years ago) being wheedled in the direction of signing up even after I’d explained that I was, in fact, poor. The young lady said that when she was a student, she herself had supported two charities in this fashion, and went on to talk about how the amount per month compared to beer in the student union. To be honest, I’ve never had much of a conscience, and the realisation that by not signing up I could effectively win a pint a week sent me streaking off down the road like a whippet on E.
The way the chugger thing works is that the chuggers are, despite what you might think, not simply bright young things who decide one day, out of the kindness of their hearts, to start signing people up for a cause about which they feel particularly passionate. In fact, close questioning will often reveal that the chuggers know surprisingly little about the work of their charity beyond the initial spiel. This is because they are hired through an agency – the agencies draw their staff from the ranks of the intermittently-employed. Actors are favourite, as they are seen as confident and outgoing and just a bit attention-seeking. Contrary to popular belief, in most cases they are paid a flat hourly wage rather than on commission. Also contrary to popular belief – officially at least – those hired are not chosen on the basis of their looks. It’s just a sad fact that most chuggers are young and young people are better-looking (he said, frantically plucking out grey hairs).
Chuggers are more than just an annoyance – they can be a serious problem. Wandsworth Council, for instance, put in a complaint in 2007 over the fact that the street corner outside Tooting Broadway Station was swarming with the buggers. There is a phenomenon known as the “chugger arc” (I am not making this up) where the flow of pedestrians on a crowded street is actually adversely affected due to the number of people giving the chuggers a wide berth. It can have a detrimental effect on local businesses.
Defenders of the chuggers say that it’s nice to have someone smile and say hello in the street. Well, yes, but that’s not really the point, is it? They’re not smiling and saying hello out of a general friendly disposition towards the world, but because they want to drag you into signing up. I mean, a prostitute will smile and say hello in the street. So I’ve heard. Cough.
The agencies say that if you don’t want to talk to the chugger, you don’t have to – you can just politely say no and walk on. But on my journey from work to the station (which admittedly is not the closest station, but I like getting a seat on the Tube) I encounter approximately twelve on average per day. That’s twelve people to politely say no to. That is, if simply politely saying no is an option. If someone greets you in a friendly fashion, it’s a little awkward to just say no. And quite often, in my experience, if you do say no, you’ll get some sarky response. Because, I mean, how fucking dare you not spend two minutes talking to this person who has no ulterior motive?
I suppose I should make the point that these charities have to make money somehow. I sponsor friends who do things for charities. I give change to the people with buckets, particularly if they are wearing humorous costimes. Hell, technically I work for a charity (yes, one that uses chuggers, and I don’t like it any more than you do). But is this really such a great way of raising money? A spokesman for Urban Leaf, one of the companies that supplies the chuggers, argued that “Traditional fundraising methods just would not allow many charities to keep up the services beneficiaries need.” However, some charities disagree – Médecins Sans Frontières, for instance, no longer uses chuggers because they feel they are ineffective.
There’s even been the suggestion – by Médecins Sans Frontières among others – that the reason such methods of fundraising are dropping in effectiveness is because there are too many chuggers around. Amen, brother.
In the meantime, I’m doing my bit – for every chugger I encounter working for my charity, I hereby undertake to waste £10 a month. That’ll show them.