‘Chugging’ is not an effective way to help people and save lives [OPINION]

Sam Woolfe

Newcastle City Council is introducing new measures that aim to crack down on ‘chuggers’ – people who ask passers-by for donations to a particular charity. It comes after complaints from shoppers, businesses, and tourists about being harassed and intimidated by chuggers while going about their day. Anyone found chugging outside an agreed area could be taken to court and fined up to £1,000.

The council tried to introduce an outright ban on chuggers last year. But the Public Fundraising Association (PFRA), who represent chuggers, challenged the move. The council is relaxing the ban. But the public is likely to welcome restrictions on where chuggers can work. As one person commented:

You can’t walk down Northumberland Street without being hassled by a chugger. They’re a pain.

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But finding chuggers to be a nuisance is not a sign that people are uncharitable. It shows that chugging is an ineffective way to raise funds for good causes.


In 2013, a report found that Britain was the most charitable developed country in the world. But at the same time, people dislike chugging.

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It’s an uncomfortable experience to be stopped in the street and guilt-tripped into setting up direct debits. If you walk away, a chugger may beam a smile and plead with you about how much of a difference you can make with only a tiny sacrifice.

Many people feel pestered by chuggers and will desperately try to avoid making eye contact with them. Chuggers have been known to use tactics such as congregating around shop doorways and working in pairs and teams to stop as many people as possible. Chuggers can be aggressive and deceitful in order to get their commission. You can often see people cross roads in order to avoid ‘running the chugger gauntlet’.

On the other hand, shouldn’t we feel guilty for not donating a few quid every month to save endangered tigers? Is feeling slightly awkward in the street really such a big deal, if it raises funds for good causes?

But charitable giving based on chugging can be counter-productive. Firstly, it can make people feel hostile towards the charities that the chuggers work for. Secondly, guilt makes us feel unhappy, so we do what we can to avoid that feeling. If chuggers make us feel guilty, we avoid them so we don’t have to face that inner scolding voice that tells us we’re selfish or mean. And thirdly, even if guilt motivates us to make a donation, once that guilt passes there’s no longer a strong basis to continue the direct debit.

More effective giving

Acting charitably based on compassion is far more effective because it reflects a more genuine concern for the suffering of others. And it doesn’t involve feeling bad in the process. You can also be compassionate in an effective way. While chuggers may passionately try to persuade you that a small donation can make a big difference, you can probably make a bigger difference by giving elsewhere.

Effective altruism is a growing social and philosophical movement which argues that reason, evidence, and analysis should be used when deciding which charities to donate to. By using charity evaluators such as GiveWell, you can see which charities are the most cost-effective in terms of improving and saving lives. None of the charities that chuggers work for make the list. This doesn’t mean that these charities don’t do remarkable work in alleviating suffering. But it does mean that we can do a lot more good than we’re currently doing.

Get Involved!

– Read more about the arguments for and against effective altruism.

Featured image via Flickr

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