A few weeks ago I noticed a story in the Herald Sun on moves by Melbourne City Council to bring their charity muggers, or “Chuggers”, under control. A couple of days later the Age carried a stirling defence of the chugger and the value they perform for charity.
This was interesting because back in February we proposed something similar would have some merit in Canberra, particularly City Walk where they can be verminous.
The response to our poll on the subject was emphatic and the comments similarly skewed against the chugger nuisance.
So I started asking the denizens of the Legislative Assembly what they thought. They managed to surprise me, they don’t think anything at all.
My exchange with the Greens went like this:
Johnboy: With Melbourne Council debating chugger bans do the Greens have a position in the ACT?
Greens Spokesperson: No, at this stage the Greens in the Assembly have not received any complaints about the behaviour of charity fundraisers, known as ‘Chuggers’, in Canberra.
Johnboy: So just because you’re out of touch with community sentiment you have no position?
Greens Spokesperson: We would be happy to look at the rules and a possible code of conduct, but it is not clear that it is the same problems exist with Canberra Chuggers as the council is responding to in Melbourne.
I was taken aback, the Greens have positions on nearly everything under the sun, almost none of them anything anyone would ever have raised with them.
Here was my response from the Liberals:
At the moment there is no intention to go down the same track as what is being proposed by Melbourne City Council.
Amongst the Government there was no enthusiasm for the issue. Ministerial offices handed the enquiry from pillar to post. I had to explain to Simon Corbell’s office what a Chugger was despite that office being less than a hundred paces from the source of the problem.
And let there be no mistake there is a problem. Here’s what the chair of Canberra CBD, Peter Barclay, had to say when we asked how they would feel about more restrictions on Chuggers:
Most people that I have spoken to find it very annoying to be asked for
money on a regular basis by the very same people, in particular along City Walk and Garema Place.
Traders are reluctant to ask them to move on in case their business is targeted for damage after hours for example The Hub Newsagent at the bus interchange.
Tourists who decline to give money often are verbally abused, not a great impression to walk away with.
Returning to the sisyphean task of finding anything out of the ACT Government. The Chief Minister’s Office eventually referred my question to Simon Corbell’s Office of Regulatory Services who spat back the existing policy.
I asked if they felt the existing policy was being satisfactorily implemented and if there were any plans to change it. I was promised a response.
A week later I asked how they were going with it.
After a pause I was informed that my enquiry was now in the hands of Justice and Community Safety.
Days later a spokesperson from Simon Corbell came back to me:
Corbell spokesperson: The Office of Regulatory Services regulates the Charitable Collections Act 2003. People collecting for a charitable purpose in the street or by going door to door are required to wear identification with the licence number and name or logo of the organisation for which they are collecting. If people have any doubts about a person collecting for any purpose, they should ask for details about the charity. This may include contacting the organisation directly to ensure that the person is collecting on their behalf. If a person is still unsatisfied, they should contact the Office of Regulatory Services on 6207 0400.
Johnboy: Thanks, so can we take it that the AG is happy with the activities of charity fundraisers in City Walk and Garema Place?
Corbell Spokesperson: The Minister does not have a view on the activities of charity fundraisers in the City. Charitable collections are a regulated activity, if Canberrans have concerns about the behaviour of people seeking charitable collections they should contact the Office of Regulatory Services (ORS). If you have any concerns about the activities of charitable fundraisers the Minister would encourage you to, in the first instance, bring them to the attention of ORS.
So if you find Chuggers infuriating, or your business is being eaten by them as pedestrians flee to the regulated environs of the Canberra Centre your elected representatives neither know nor care.
Let’s be clear on how Chuggers operations work. A charity contracts a commercial organisation to fundraise on their behalf.
The commercial organisation pays young people a fraction of what they get out of the charity to employ high powered sales tactics and no small amount of guilt to extract your credit card number.
In the first year the operator keeps the majority of the money and then over a number of years the percentage of the regular deductions from your credit card that actually goes to the charity increases. In the order of five years later all the money you’re giving is actually going to the charity you’ve chosen to support, give or take what it costs to lease the CEO’s Mercedes and keep them in the style they’ve become accustomed to.
It’s a very wasteful model, but it does give charities reliable revenue streams, which some of them consider to be worth it. Smaller slices of an enlarged giving pie.
But not all charities do this, in fact very few do, and generally not local ones. I asked the RSPCA’s Michael Linke what his view of chugging is and got this response:
RSPCA takes a very strategic and long term approach to our fund raising activities. The activity of “charity mugging” is something we don’t engage in. As a charity we need to solicit donations, government funding meets about 10% of our annual budget and as such we are left with having to find about $3.6M per annum from our local community.
However in doing this we work with donors and try an engage them, we offer them options, whether it is supporting cats, dogs, native wildlife or our cruelty inspection work. We look to engage our supporters. We also offer something back through invitations to events, information evenings as well as creating events our supporters can be part of. We think of RSPCA supporters as long term supporters, not random people we pass in the street.
Look at next month’s Million Paws Walk. RSPCA has created a wonderful experience for the whole community to come together and enjoy a great day out. At the same time we raise over $160,000. This event is a classic two way event, beneficial to supporters and beneficial to the charity. Everyone feels good about the day.
Our Cup Cake Day, held in August every year, is another example of engaging with the community. The community bakes and sells cup cakes, we don’t solicit anything, it’s a passive event, everyone loves it and it raises almost $100,000. People feel engaged, people have fun and money is raised.
So no, you won’t get mugged by RSPCA volunteers soliciting a $10 or $20 gift. We value your support much more than a ten second interaction.
I can’t explain the torpor of the Legislative Assembly on this, wild conspiracy theories to drive patronage into the Canberra Centre before knocking down City Walk and Garema Place do spring to mind.
But hey, maybe tweeting @SimonCorbell next time you get chugged will get the message through, we hear he’s having a photoshoot today with CityNews to talk about the wonders of social media.