On a warm sunny afternoon on Abercrombie St near busy Redfern train station, a group of young people with bright colored T-shirts are smiling and approaching every passer-by.
They are charity collectors, also called “chuggers”. They smile for hours every day trying to attract donations from people for the charities they represent.
However, charity collecting has been described by journalist Andrew Koubaridis as “a job where you can be ignored by almost everyone, sworn at, patronised and even racially abused”.
This video made by Derry Nane shows how “chuggers” are ignored by people in the street.
Most of the stories we read in the media about “chuggers” are negative. Words like “hate”, “harass” and “get rid of” are frequently used about them online. However, there are also some really moving and positive stories about why people choose to become a charity collector.
“Much online information does have a big misconception about our job,” Luken said, who works for UNICEF Australia, “Our average success rate is also reducing, and people start to be rude to us”.
“I have been working for UNICEF Australia for around one and a half years. Actually in 2006, there was an earthquake in my country in Indonesia with tsunami. I saw charities helping my country. But I remember only one who actually went there with helicopter, and dropped boxes of food. And I saw the logo on the helicopter, UNICEF. That is actually why I choose to join UNICEF”.
Luken took his job to pay back UNICEF for assisting his family after the tsunami in Indonesia. He lost his relatives in this tsunami. He said: “I know exactly how hard it can be to grow up without parents, especially in a third-world country like Indonesia. It is really good to help others for a good cause. And if you do not start from now to help these people, when else can you start”.
He says most of the charity collectors apply for this as a casual job. They try to help people when they have free time. Luken is not allowed to say what the exact salary of being a charity collector is, but he told me it is is more or less minimum wage in Australia.
“Honestly it is not much compared to other jobs,” he said “It is not really valuable if just look at the amount of our wage. But mostly it is emotional satisfaction. It is not just about earning money for myself, but I am earning while helping at the same time”.
Luken says that being patient is one of the most challenging things for a charity collector.
“It feels bad when people cannot understand us, especially when I know I am doing it for a good cause and with belief,” he said, “People said I will eat up all the money, and it is normal passers-by shouted at me”.
Luken told me they mostly work in groups to take care of each other and be safe. They are required to control their temper, even when people bring race into it as a means of abuse.
“We might talk to one thousand people, but only one hundred will stop, and only one person donates. Sometimes I question myself if it is worthy, but I know I am doing a good thing. And now I am used to aggressive behaviors” he said with a smile.
Joshua Croke, now a teacher, worked casually as a street fund-raiser in Melbourne in 2011, representing the Heart Foundation. He once told The Sydney Morning Herald that what they do is looking for gold – the people who really support their causes.
“All it takes is searching through the mud but it’s worth it”, he said.
Luken says that it is lucky no one has been hurt on the job, and most of the abuse they experience is verbal. But when it comes to security issues, Luken told me that his agency only provides suggestions of how to stay safe with no actual support. He is also not clear about who would be responsible if someone gets hurt.
A UNICEF Australia media officer has been contacted, but no reply has been given as yet.
The Charitable Fundraising Regulation 2015 indicates that all places where “chuggers” work must be officially approved. It also mentions that they can only be paid no more than “one-third of the gross money obtained by that person in the appeal”.
Another charity collector, who asked not to be named, said that every dollar donated can be traced on the official website of the charity, and donors will also be continually informed by emails or phone calls about how their money is spent.
They also warned the public to be careful of fake “chuggers” who try to seek personal gain in the name of a charity. Some fake “chuggers” wearing self-made T-shirts have been reported recently. It is important for every potential donor to check their collector’s identity before donating.
According to the Charitable Fundraising Regulation 2015, a face-to-face collector must prominently display any identification card or badge that has been issued to the person in compliance with a condition of the authority to conduct the appeal while participating in a fundraising appeal. All legal “chuggers” are equipped with an identification card with the logo of the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA).
“all the legal charity collectors should be willing to show their identification card” Luken said.
It is true that part of the money people donate goes to basic administration. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, third-party companies that hire “chuggers” take 20-25 per cent of the total collected. As UNICEF Australia mentions, for every dollar received by charities, only 7 cents are spent on its accountability, administration and reserves.
“Chuggers”, as front-line staff, actually receive the least benefits. The wages they earn can not even meet their basic needs. However, there are still many “chuggers” like Luken who do this job with good intentions.
If you do not want to donate or have no time to stop, you can at least give a smile back. Everyone who does legitimate work deserves respect and fair treatment.
Tell us about your experience with charity collectors!