The ethical implications of circumventing chuggers' fundraising fees

Howard Lake | 28 July 2008 | Blogs

A couple of weekends ago, my girlfriend Sarah and I attended a weekend event where Sarah signed up to a charity that had a stand at the event. Sarah told the fundraiser on the stand she’d probably join the charity but would send the direct debit form straight to the charity.
At this point the fundraiser pointed out that he wouldn’t get paid because he was only paid according to how many people he signed up that day. We went away, had something to eat, and deliberated on what to do.
What would you do in this situation? Take a few minutes to think about it before reading on.
After we both talked it over, Sarah decided to join the charity at the event, so that the fundraiser was paid, even though it would mean that the charity would see less of her donation, and probably none for the first year.
Our reasoning in this was quite simple. We thought it was unethical that someone should do a job and not be paid for it. This guy knew his charity really well, he’d been a great advocate for it, and he’d persuaded Sarah to join. And yet Sarah had it within her power to ensure he received no remuneration for the excellent fundraising he’d just done.
We both thought this was a bigger ethical issue than how much of the money went directly to the charity: people deserve to be paid for the jobs they do.
At first blanche, this seems like a relatively minor situation in which a couple of people made a personal ethical choice about how to give.
But it has wider implications. A number of donor advice authorities (Intelligent Giving for instance) recommend that if you are approached by an F2F fundraiser and decide to give, then you should go home instead and sign up online, thus ensuring all the money goes to the charity while that nasty chugger agency doesn’t get its paws on any of it.
Now that’s sustainable if only a few people did it. But let’s consider a thought experiment. Just suppose that absolutely everybody who was approached by a chugger followed this advice. The numbers of people recruited through F2F would remain the same, but their sign-up procedure would not be via a direct debit form on the street. Agencies would therefore not receive a fee for recruiting them.
In the next year to 18 months, charities would receive all the donation income that would otherwise have gone to their agencies in fees. However, within a matter of months, all the F2F agencies would be out of business as they would no longer be being paid for donors they had recruited (some people would think this a good thing).
Where, then, would charities get their supply of new donors, if F2F were no longer an option (remember, in our thought experiment, F2F is not an option because everyone persuaded by a chugger goes home and signs up online)?
They’d have to use DM, DRTV, telephone or some other acquisition technique (and prospective donors may not be responsive to these techniques). Charities wouldn’t be saving – or gaining – any money, they’d just be robbing Peter to pay Paul, a method of financial planning that usually results in both Peter and Paul failing to keep up their mortgage payments.
The ethical considerations for this are twofold.
One: people (and agencies) deserve to be paid for the job they do.
Two: you can’t cheat fundraising costs. If you avoid paying them in one area, they’ll have to be paid somewhere else.
So, for those people who proffer ‘ethical’ advice of avoiding paying F2F fundraisers’ fees by signing up online, I’d just ask you to think about the consequences for charities if everyone really did what you suggest they do.