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It’s a mug’s game: tricks of a charity mugger

Posted at 8:00 am, July 30, 2014 in Fun London, News
Charity chugger

Who’d be a charity mugger? Andy Hill, for one. A former street fundraiser himself, he reveals some top trade secrets.

It’s a bright summer’s afternoon on Tottenham Court Road, and I’m about to convince you to do something amazing. Heroic, really. Here you come: ‘Hi there! Wow, nice shoes! Got a couple of minutes for a chat?’

Why am I trying to befriend you on your lunch break? Because I’m a street fundraiser, a ‘charity mugger’, a ‘chugger’. No, don’t run away! I’m not actually chugging any more, but I did pester people on the streets for several years, grinning ear-to-ear despite all the dirty looks, and gathering money for good causes including cleanwater projects in the Philippines and measles vaccines in Syria. I was pretty decent at it, too. On a good day I’d persuade ten people to commit to giving money. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it soon adds up. The last time I checked I was personally responsible for raising some threequarters of a million pounds for charity.

How did I do it? They say a magician never reveals his secrets. I, however, am not a magician, I’m just an affable guy with big hair, and I’m going to break down the process for you.

Stage one, obviously, is to get you to stop. The key to this is personalising the approach. People who make a lot of effort with their appearance are the easiest to pick off; they want their hair/shoes/bag noticed, so if I can deliver an icebreaker that plays to your vanity – without being rude, of course – you’ll most likely give me a few seconds. At this point it’s a bit like flirting; I’ll ask cheeky questions and aim to get a laugh. ‘Let me guess, you’re not from round here, are you?’ You might wish you hadn’t stopped, but you did, and now it’s my job to get you talking.

Stage two, known as the ‘rapport build’, is where most fundraising conversations are won or lost. I need you to open up. ‘What’s your favourite animal?’ I might ask. Or ‘Do you like Quavers?’. If I’m feeling super confident I might even risk: ‘You must be sick of us guys pestering you, right?’

At this point I’m hoping you’re the type of person who’ll automatically nod your head. If so: jackpot! Once people start saying ‘yes’ it gets harder and harder to ultimately say ‘no’.

Whether you’re on board or are secretly planning to make a run for it, I then launch into stage three: the spiel. But remember, I’m not a salesman, and there’s nothing for sale. My objective here is to tell you about a problem, make it clear that problem is serious and ask if you think something should be done. Tricky territory, as you know this is coming.

In spite of my best efforts we’ve hit stage four: your objections. These will often fall into a few broad categories: you can’t afford it; you don’t want to give me your bank details; you can’t do it now or you already give to other charities. I can overcome all of these so long as I built a good rapport earlier.

From here on in (stage five) it’s a test of my ability to sustain your interest and subtly negotiate an alternative way of helping. Stage five is what elevates good fundraisers above the level of obdurate douchebaggery. If I’ve done my job you will decide to give, and feel happy you did.

It’s a common complaint that chuggers are mercenaries with no emotional investment in the charity they work for. While that may be true in some cases, it’s also worth pointing out that street fundraising is an insanely tough job. On a good day 80 percent of the people you talk to will reject you. There are tough targets, and penalties for missing them. The staff turnover rate among fundraisers makes the job of Chelsea manager look ironclad. I’m certainly glad I don’t have to bug people today. Get this, though: the last campaign I worked on may have cost the charity £260,000, but it raised £1.2 million. For starving kids. So if I were to ask you again if you can help, perhaps give a bit less, or in a diffrent way, you can do that, surely? No?

All right, I’ll catch you on the way back.

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