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Street Solicitations Promote Uninformed Giving

   Apr 01, 2007

Are donors being mugged at $210 a pop?

Is there anything more annoying than being accosted repeatedly in the street by charity solicitors as you are trying to finish up your errands before your parking meter expires? Chuggers, short for charity muggers, are probably the least liked type of charity solicitors. A 2003 study of British donors found that only 6% picked street or doorstep fundraising as their preferred method of being solicited and over 30% chose this method as their least favorite. The over 65 crowd dislikes street solicitations the most.

So why are charities irritating people by stopping us on our way to the grocery store or bank? Because they are having success raising money through street solicitations. Polite and kind donors that regularly screen out telemarketers with their caller ID, change the channel when a charity ad is on the radio or TV, or throw away direct mail solicitations before opening them, may not be able to dismiss an eager street solicitor so easily. Since most street solicitors are younger, they are better able to engage potential younger donors who have a lower incidence of giving in response to more traditional solicitation methods.

Save the Children raised a little over one-half of its new 18,000 child sponsorship donors this way in fiscal 2005 and the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group signed up 15% of its 50,000 members from street solicitations, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. Greenpeace, Oxfam-America and Children International have also reported attracting large numbers of new donors through face-to-face street solicitations.

Giving to a reputable charitable organization on the street is better than giving to an individual panhandler, who may use your generosity to enable his alcohol or drug addiction. However, AIP has concerns about organized street soliciting beyond it being annoying to a lot of people. Charity street solicitors usually have I.D. cards, clipboards, charity specific shirts, bibs, hats and informational material from the charity. Even so it is possible for a scammer to counterfeit any of these items. Giving your credit card information to any stranger trolling the streets is risky in this age of increasing identity theft.

Even if you are convinced that a street solicitor does actually represent a charity, never let yourself feel pressured to give on the spot. Informed donors take the time to read a charity's materials, compare it with other groups and check with an independent source of information on charities. Wise giving decisions are more likely to be made in the comfort of your home than in the chaos of the street.

Since many people will not have it in their budget to make one quick, large donation, charity street solicitors typically ask donors to agree to a monthly payment plan. Typically, the solicitor obtains your credit card information so that the charity can automatically charge an agreed upon monthly payment. Fundraisers prefer this arrangement because it locks in a stream of contributions from the donor and lessens the need to constantly remind you to give. Some donors may not care for this arrangement because they would rather have the flexibility to decide each month which group to give or not give to. The Institute of Fundraising, an association of British fundraisers, reports that half of street donors discontinue giving during the first year, according to a November 2005 article in The Christian Science Monitor.

DialogueDirect, a professional fundraising business which reported recruiting 260,000 donors for its clients such as Children International and Plan USA, pays its street solicitors $9.14 an hour plus "performance related pay." DialogueDirect also reports on its web site that its "Dialoguers" or street solicitors "are averaging between $500 and $1000 per week." A full-time 40-hour week at $9.14 per hour is only $365. This means that the average solicitor earns 27% to 63% of their pay by meeting "performance and quality targets." AIP is concerned that paying such a significant amount of a solicitor's compensation in bonuses tied to performance goals may encourage fundraisers to put undue pressure on donors to contribute. This is why paying fundraisers on a commission basis is generally frowned upon in the nonprofit world. While DialogueDirect says it is not paying commissions, its bonus pay for "performance" closely resembles it.

The web site of DialogueDirect states that they "charge [to the charity] a flat fee for donors acquired." Anyone contemplating giving to a street solicitor should find out if the charity pays a fee for your donation and if so, how much.

Children International pays DialogueDirect $210 for each new child sponsor who agrees to a minimum monthly donation of $22, according to the charity's current fundraising contract with DialogueDirect. This means that a donor will have to make regular $22 payments for ten months before any of their contribution can start to benefit children. The campaign goal, according to the fundraising contract, is 19,048 new Children International sponsors for a $4 million fee to DialogueDirect.

I have found from personal experience that street solicitors do not like it if you don't sign up on the spot. Last year when I told a street solicitor in Chicago that I needed time to research a charity before making a contribution, he was not very happy with me. The solicitor said that he would not get credit if I sent a contribution in at a later date. It is wrong for any fundraiser to encourage people to donate without giving them adequate time to think about it. AIP strongly believes that professional fundraising companies should address this problem by giving its solicitors credit for donors that later mail in a contribution. This could be accomplished by simply giving the potential donor a coded solicitation slip that could later be identified with an individual solicitor.

AIP encourages its members to: find out how much a charity is paying to solicit you, take the time to check out a charity before giving, and not feel pressured to give on the spot in the street.

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