Anyone who is regularly in the centre of Edinburgh or Glasgow will almost certainly have encountered them: young people in brightly-coloured tabbards clutching clipboards and all determined on the same thing: to make you to donate to charity.
Some people have developed sophisticated techniques for avoiding these “chuggers”; others, however, believe that the time has come for tighter regulation.
This latter group includes the Labour MSP George Foulkes who called for tougher controls in February. The Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing has also said that if re-elected the Government will draw up new regulations governing street fundraising and yesterday the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA), which self-regulates the industry, confirmed that it is preparing to tighten the rules in place in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
On the face of it, there would seem to be a need for tighter regulation. There is certainly widespread frustration with the nuisance factor and a survey by the think tank Intelligent Giving suggested recently that some of the collectors were not informing people that they were paid to solicit donations, even though this is required by law.
The truth is that the street collectors are paid and it can take a charity more than two years to recoup the whole cost of fundraising. The public have the right to be told this and it must be enforced on the street. However, it is important in the push for tighter regulation than the benefits of these street collections are not lost.
Morag Fleming, head of fundraising for Quarriers, one of the charities which uses this method of fundraising, has told this newspaper how effective it has been: since 2001, more than £2.6 million has been raised for Quarriers in this way and 8000 people are regularly giving to the charity who might not otherwise have done so.
At a time when charities in Scotland are struggling to maintain their income and are having many of their contracts with councils cut, the importance of this source of funding cannot be underestimated. Charities get a good income from street collections (across the UK it is £10m a month); it is income they desperately need and it must be protected.
There is another important aspect to the work of street collectors, too, that regulation must not smother.
Despite a problematic lack of detail, the Prime Minister has continued to trumpet his idea of the Big Society. If the aim is to encourage more people to engage with charities more often, then street collections have demonstrated they can be part of that and, crucially, that they can reach young people in a way that more traditional ways of raising money do not. In the push for regulation, encouraged by those who are irritated by chuggers, we must not damage this good work. If this truly is the Big Society, the small matter of a few chuggers on the street is something we can all put up with.
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