The Chugger Infestation

By now you must be aware that Tribeca has a chugger infestation: “Chugger” is a Britishism, short for “charity mugger,” meaning those young, earnest-looking people who approach you on the sidewalk asking to speak with you about helping children, or marriage equality, or the ACLU, or the environment. (That they are good causes is not the issue here.) Often the chuggers will turn aggressive if you ignore them. I don’t ignore them; I’m openly hostile. I scowl, swear, shake my head in disgust. I know it sounds extreme, but I get approached three times a day (more if you count the New York Dolls strip club guys), and part of the reason I like living in New York City as opposed to a small town is that I don’t want to have to speak to people on the street. I’m busy-ish!

When I complained to my partner about chuggers months ago, he said, “But they’re volunteers. You should be nice to them.”

“Volunteers?” I said. “Are you crazy? They’re obviously paid. I have no doubt that the charities outsource it to companies that take a good chunk of the money.” Well, last weekend, the Wall Street Journal had an article by Anne Kadet that confirmed my suspicions—and then some.

“What these fund raisers and their nonprofit clients don’t like to chat about is the financials—the outfits initially declined to disclose any details, but they all have their 2010 contracts on file with Washington State. The fine print yielded some interesting findings, which they later confirmed. Children International, for instance, pays fund raiser DialogueDirect a $245 fee for each new $22-a-month sponsor. The ACLU and Amnesty International USA, meanwhile, pay fund raiser Grassroots Campaigns $175 to $180 for each half-day canvassing shift that will produce, on average, less than $150 in donations.

There’s no law requiring commercial fund raisers to share a percentage of the take with their clients, and the New York attorney general’s office says it hasn’t taken any action against the street canvassers. But Washington State, which issues an annual commercial fund raisers report, ranked DialogueDirect at the bottom of the state’s 109 registered fund raisers after it returned -23% of the year’s take to Children International. Grassroots Campaigns, meanwhile, ranked fourth from the bottom, returning zilch.”

The takeaway: If you want to donate to these causes, do it directly online! By donating via chuggers, you’re merely supporting the middlemen.

8 Comments

  1. I am so happy that I wasn’t the only one feeling harassed as I walk through our neighborhood everyday. I am fully for supporting charities as I do on a personal level, but these chuggers are literally on every corner in Tribeca. It never seemed to make sense to me, and it also seems that there are never as many chuggers in other neighborhoods in Manhattan.

    Thanks for all of your research and information. Now I wont feel as guilty when I say, “Not today” .

  2. I live in the middle of Chambers St and they are often perched right outside my door. I’ll be much happier not giving them any energy now that I have these facts.

  3. this makes me feel better about not giving any money to them. But, at least they are earning an honest wage, and doing something very difficult–asking people for money.

  4. Seriously, Erik? What have we learned over the past several months? You don’t get upset, you just get “Leave me alone, Chugger!” translated into young, earnest English or Chinese and put it on a t-shirt.

  5. Funny, I never felt guilty ignoring them in the first place.

  6. Thank you so much for giving us the facts! Even though I don’t stop for them, I always felt guilty for these “nice volunteers”!

  7. I agree that donating to the chuggers seems like the charities are losing out. I am interested to know though, who is donating to them since they wouldn’t leave them on the street if they weren’t working in some way.

    I actually wrote a survey to figure out what people are thinking. If you click on the link below you can leave your input.

    http://thomaslin.journalism.cuny.edu/2010/09/13/chuggers-helping-the-cause-or-stealing-your-money/

  8. chugger to me today: “you look like you like children.”

    me: “yes, and I’m late to pick up mine.” (though if they had intercepted me Wednesday morning, I would’ve easily said “no, I don’t at all. In fact, I know two you can have.”)