‘Chugger’ (according to the Urban Dictionary): Paid “charity” street worker (read: student) who has been trained to believe that they are carrying out a worthy task, improving peoples’ lives by conning Joe Public out of their money for this week’s Good Cause. Usually an agency worker where the agency takes a hefty cut of the hourly rate that the charity in question has paid for, whilst at the same time increasing profits by selling on details of those foolish enough to actually stop and sign up to said Good Cause. If you really want to support a charity, do it through their website, not a chugger.
‘Chugger’ (according to Wikipedia): Paid street fundraisers are sometimes known as chuggers because usually fundraising is viewed as aggressive or invasive (a portmanteau of “charity” and “mugger”). It became popular as a way of referring to street fundraisers after several articles appeared in British newspapers which pointed out the negative image of the people doing the job.
Having done fundraising or other activities in the past which have involved engaging total strangers in conversation with a view to initiating some kind of response, I’ve always tried to ignore the negative image of chuggers. I’ve done my best to see them as people who deserve a fair hearing, or eye contact at least, and to not just blank them straight out. I am thinking of changing my mind.
A few weeks ago I was ambushed by a girl with short jet black hair, adorned with a neon pink strip of colour which formed a severe fringe running diagonal across her forehead. Pierced and harshly black eye-linered, she was every bit the cliched image of a studenty anarchist who’ll probably grow out of her idealism in a few years time. [Oh dear, I am getting so old and jaded.] ‘Amnesty International’ was emblazoned across her front, and she pulled their prickly logo off pretty well.
I returned her smile, slowed down, but kept walking, “I’m actually already on their mailing list and get all the updates I need.” (I didn’t mention that signing up to their list in the first place was the only easy way of getting out of an earlier conversation with another Amnesty chugger.)
“This is something different,” she said keenly, so out of courtesy I slowed down so that she could catch up with me and chat in a more dignified fashion. With an enthusiastic smile she walked alongside me and said, “We’re asking you to give just a little bit of money every month.”
“Thanks for asking, but I’m afraid I’m not going to do that right now,” I replied, smiling politely and continuing to walk on.
Chugger girl stopped in her tracks. “Ah, come on!” she exclaimed loudly while sighing with exasperation, throwing her hands in the air with frustration, drooping her shoulders and raising her eyebrows, employing the same tone of incredulity and irritation that you’d use to the parking attendant who’d whammed a ticket on your car for being a couple of centimetres over a yellow line, or the pedantic municipal official who refuses to help you if you arrive just a minute late for an appointment.
She glared at me with the disdain I’d expect her to reserve for a tyrannical despot or for some global conglomerate. It seemed a bit of an overreaction. Nonetheless, I tried to salvage the situation by mumbling something englishly apologetic and trying to smile. But it was too late. She had turned her back on me and was furrowing her brow and scanning the oncoming crowds, preparing to dig deep and rediscover her fake smile for the next punter.
She may have had the right look to promote a cause which shamelessly champions the rights of the disempowered, but certainly not the attitude. In fact, the only thing it made me want to do was to unsubscribe from Amnesty’s mailing list simply because the ambassador to whom they’d subcontracted this publicity was so abrasive and downright rude.
And so it was last week, as I walked down Tottenham Court Road, that I found my reverie interrupted by those familiar tones. “Hey, how’re you going today? Are you having a nice day?” Uh oh, here we go again. I made eye contact with the chugger (baggy aaron jumper, short black shorts over black leggings, chunky doc martins, bleached spiky hair with a pink twinge, all fairly 80s, which I guess must be retro by now) and confidently apologised that I couldn’t sign up for anything or give any money. This time I didn’t wait for a response but kept my head down and eyes averted as I ran the gauntlet between the next five of them.
And then, on my way back, I took it one step further and passed by on the other side.
In conclusion. My advice to the charities? Pick your ambassadors wisely. Irritating chuggers put people off and undermine any message that you actually want to communicate.
But then here’s the question for me: if I am seeking to be an ambassador for one who went the extra mile, talked to ignored people, loved his enemies, and who certainly wouldn’t pass by on the other side, what – in the case of my interaction with chuggers – does it look like to go and do likewise?