If you are from any major city, or have just spent any time walking on a pedestrian shopping street, then you have no doubt had a close encounter with someone asking for your generous donation to GREENPEACE, Amnesty International, or any other non-profit organization that relies on donations from civil society. Unfortunately, it is not the most popular way to obtain funds for an organization. Many people fear that they may be victims of a scam, or just don’t want to be bullied by Chuggers (Charity Muggers) into giving funds to an organization they may have never heard of. As a 33-year-old Copenhagen resident puts it, “fundraising on the street is annoying, aggressive, and makes me think poorly of any organization that uses it.”
Therefore, I decided to try walking in the shoes of these so called Chuggers, by applying to be a promoter for The United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), Denmark, a position which is advertised as being a way to “engage people on the streets and inspire them through awareness of UNICEF’s work,” using existing tools such as “School in a box”, “Plumby Nuts”, and “Virtual Reality Glasses”. After applying, I underwent a short phone interview, followed by a test, where I went to Strøget, the main shopping street in Copenhagen, to attempt to get my fellow residents to complete a survey about their opinions on street fundraising.
Prior to the test, I was told that UNICEF would focus on my attitude and energy, the number of people stopped or approached, and my ability to inspire people to complete the questionnaire. In return, I would get an opportunity to experience how they work and what they value. Therefore, my approach was simple, I would smile, wave, and politely ask if my target person was willing to “share their opinions about street fundraising,” or “want to fill out a 30 second survey about street fundraising.” I was nervous, but also excited to gain insight into how everyone felt about this notorious method, whilst experiencing what it was like to be the one holding the clipboard.
I sure did learn what UNICEF’s face-to-face fundraisers value! Upon arrival, I was not given any background information about UNICEF, what they value as an organization, and on top of that, I was told that they were concerned about the quantity, not the quality, in my approaches to people; there was no need to note their responses to the survey. I was told that the ‘champion’ of this test was a girl who forcefully followed people, asking them their name, age, and postal code. Hearing this made me realize that this was going to be an experience I would never forget.
Throughout my hour-long test, I was instructed to be “loud”, “to pretend I was their best friend and walk directly at people,” and when I exclaimed that I was a courteous person, I was told, “this job is not meant for polite people.” Consequently, after being pushed by the team leader to be insistent and brash to those who passed me on the street, I left feeling shocked about how UNICEF was representing itself to the public. When I inquired about their interactive tools, such as the Virtual Reality Glasses, the team leader was surprised that I even knew about them and exclaimed they were only rarely used for events. In my opinion, that is a big mistake!
Even though it was a bit distressing, I found my attempt at being a promoter to be really fulfilling, as I was able to see what type of instructions street fundraisers are given. They are trained to hit a target, to aim for as many sign-ups as possible, rather than learning to create a fulfilling experience that raises awareness about the non-profit they are representing. Additionally, I was surprised that UNICEF did not provide any welcome packs, or even show any photographs, or supportive information about where the donor’s money was going, and what each cent actually provided, as UNHCR is doing for its donors. Isn’t financially supporting a non-profit organization supposed to be a positive experience that allows civil society members the ability to make a difference in the world?
I believe that this Chugger approach to fundraising may work some of the time, perhaps for those donors who are not affected by the aggressive nature of it. As 27-year-old Seattle resident, and past Children International fundraiser states, “I understand it. It jolts people out of their day-to-day.” However, what about the many that feel threatened by this approach? What about the potential donors that care about where their money goes? As a 38-year-old Copenhagen resident declares, “you know that a big part of your donation goes to pay the person pestering you.”
With many non-profits gaining a quarter of their total income from face-to-face fundraising, this type of fundraising is valuable, and obviously financially important. Therefore I think it is time to throw out the aggressive, fake, and annoying method that puts off a vast percentage of donors, and create approaches that allow the donor to feel fond of the organization they are financially supporting, and a valuable part of the process. We need to use these face-to-face interactions to help the public learn something about the lives of children, women, and people living in a situation completely different from their own.
If you want to share your opinion about street fundraising, you can fill out this short online survey, which UNICEF provided for my test day. I will happily pass along your anonymous responses to UNICEF, so maybe they can see that recording the responses and considering the opinions of their target group is valuable, and hopefully rethink their current approach.
Let us not forget whom these funds are for!