The six shonky steps charity parasites use to get your $$
Charity: a philanthropic, benevolent or gift-giving organisation. Parasitism: a non-mutual relationship where one organism directly benefits at the expense of another, generally larger, organism.
Thus, a charasite... ?
You know them. Well-meaning, hyper-energetic young people in netball smocks who would just love to talk to you about how much bears, or trees, or whales, or heart research and need your help specifically.
The English call them chuggers, the contraction of charity muggers. How unfair! A mugging is more straightforward – one-sided, unavoidable and violent by definition. But a parasite continues to live, over time, at the expense of the host.
And that is precisely the nature of it, as our friends with clipboards do not want your money. They aren’t even allowed to take it. They want your credit card details. They want to sign you up to a structured, multi-level, giving program.
A tall order to sell such a deal in the street, when you think about it. I’ve often watched them work, working to a script which is fairly standard in high pressure sales:
• open dialogue at all costs – obstruct with your body, raise your arms, offer a handshake, remark on unusual clothing, do something ridiculous to attract attention, etc.
• hand something over as soon as possible – information, a clipboard, a brochure etc. – which both prevents people leaving and facilitates asking for something in return later
• make dialogue easy – present a list of funding areas from which to choose the most important area for funding, for instance
• keep things moving – be personable but not personal… unless you think shamelessly flirting will help, of course
• provide a positive script with leading questions – “Do you think we should be doing more to save the environment?” “Yes!” “And people in general could do more to help the environment around them?” “Yes!” etc.
• close presumptively – make the assumption that someone is going to pay slightly before they actually say yes… for instance, say “would you like to pay by direct debit or credit card?”
Sound rather familiar? Probably.
If it sounds like a bloodless and cynical process, that’s because it is. Your friendly collectors do not actually work for the charity they’re collecting for. They work for a collection agency, a company engaged by that charity to collect money on their behalf.
Now bloodless it may be, but when it comes to ensuring donations, it’s both effective and reliable.
Charities are all too aware that a collection organisation will provide them with a fairly consistent return on investment as a certain amount of people will sign up per dollar paid to the collection agency, and those people will have a certain drop-off rate over time – many people simply forget all about their charitable contributions, with direct debit payments going in and out of their accounts all the time.
This structure allows something as capricious as charitable donations to be accounted for, planned, and regulated. Charities are also aware, of course, that the current economic climate isn’t ideal for relying on people’s largesse.
What everyone else is primarily aware of is that these interactions have all the nicety of pulling teeth with a Stilson wrench. Businesses, in my experience, loathe the presence of our charasitic friends.
Have you ever noticed how charasites are always on the same pitches – public property, but a certain distance from any commercial business? They have to be. The last thing any business with street frontage wants is decreased foot traffic, or their shop only being passed by awkward, distracted people.
For the simple fact remains that charasitism makes people deeply, profoundly uncomfortable. It’s quite extraordinary, when you think about it: people feel like they are being forced to deny the existence of a cheery and pleasant young person who just wants to talk to them.
In any other environment, this would be severely anti-social. And watching charasites collect, it’s obvious just how much the process twists people into knots. Regardless of the fact that passersby are always perfectly free to say no and continue about their day, I think a lot of people feel genuinely pressured by the charasitic experience.
Science goes some way toward telling us why, as adult human beings feel a genuine significance around social rejection. I’m at least partly convinced that the deep sense of discomfort you feel just before you know you’re going to have to ignore another chirpy young cipher asking for your money is part of our evolutionary heritage, where social rejection is a virtual death sentence.
I’ve watched people change their route, cross the street, check their phones obsessively, and more – just to avoid having to tell a stranger “no”.
It can’t be much better on the other side of the charasitic fence. I’d love access to a group of charasites to test this theory on – I’d hazard a guess that they find being completely ignored even more distressing than being told to go to hell.
All in all, I can’t but help think that a charity who would disavow this kind of collection might generate themselves a lot of favourable publicity. Relying on guilt and social pressure to start donations, and apathy to continue them, hardly seems… well, charitable.
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