Who’s the chugger?

In this fictional story, Anne Marshall uses her experience in face-to-face fundraising to demonstrate the issues that street fundraisers often have to deal with. Told via a variety of viewpoints, Anne depicts a ‘day in the life’ of a seasoned face-to-face fundraiser.

Written by
Anne Marshall
January 20, 2022

You’re about to spend a day in downtown Chicago, where Anne Marshall conjures up a story that illustrates what it’s like to find new supporters, on the street, in the harshest of conditions. 

In this case, the fundraiser is working during a snowstorm. Anne’s account may be fictional, but it shows the harsh reality of how many people actually view face-to-face fundraisers. Fortunately, Anne offers a welcome swipe at the nasty term ‘chuggers’. 

We know this story may resonate with some face-to-face fundraisers out there, so if you have similar experiences that you’d like to share (true rather than fictional), feel free to use the comments section below. 

And now, wrap up warm for your trip to the Windy City – it’s cold out there! 

‘The weather in Chicago today is: -12’ 

The numbers shine fluorescent green above the doorway of the NBC Tower in the downtown core. The team trudge down the magnificent mile like soldiers, messenger bags heavy with iPads, charity leaflets and dozens of reusable bamboo coffee cups they’ve been instructed to give away to donors.

‘Who’s gonna stop and talk to us in this shit? It’s a white out.’

‘I can’t see. I think my eyelashes are frozen together!’

The others laugh at Clark who is waving his cracked pair of glasses in the air, spinning around blindly as snow hits him from every direction. Shay passes him one of the giveaway cups she has poured her coffee into before they left the office, ‘Here Clarky, I got you’, she says, handing it to him.

‘We working all day in this?’ I ask my team leader.

Yeah, we are. We got a target. If we get it, maybe we’ll stop. If not, we’re here till six.’

‘Okay boss, we’re hustling …’

A well-dressed lady stops – maybe she’s gonna ask me for directions?

‘What are you doing out here in this weather?’ she feels sorry for me, I know. She’s got a nice purse too, definitely got a credit card or five, that Gucci’s real.

‘Thanks ma’am…have you… have you…heard of us...?’ I’m stuttering coz my lips are frozen, so I point to my ID.

‘Oh. Is this one of those monthly things?’ she yells trying to pull her fur collar up. She got a matching fur headband too, looks like she just jumped off a ski slope and landed downtown.

‘Yeah, yeah that’s right.’ I hop from foot to foot trying to keep eye contact but she’s looking over her shoulder nervous, distracted by a cop arresting some crazy guy in a Santa hat. There’s a scuffle and yelling, she looks frightened. I gesture to her to move in front of me, and I stand with my back to the cop while she looks over my shoulder holding her purse tight to her body like it’s a baby.

‘Welcome to my office.’ I say, trying to make her laugh.

‘It’s a monthly thing, but it’s in your control, ya know, if you were to lose your job or something, but it’s real quick. It’s Christmas. Did you get your husband something yet? Does he like nature?’ This is my way in, then I’m gonna hit her with the facts.

‘Oh, go on then’, she says. ‘But only because you look so cold’. She opens her purse and pulls out five different shiny credit cards, all different colours.

‘Don’t you want me to tell you more about what they do?’ I’m an expert, got books out from the library just to read up, bore my girl every night about this stuff, it’s important to me. 

She waves her hand, ‘No, no, it’s fine.’

I can see my team leader hovering around now. He told me I need to get one today or he can’t keep me on the team, not that he’d want to lose me. He knows my girl just had a baby, but it ain’t up to him. I’ve been getting fours, fives, sixes for months now, I’ve just had a bad streak lately. Tired since my baby girl been here. Feel kinda down.

I start to take my gloves off, give my team leader the nod over the lady’s shoulder, holding them between my knees while I turn the iPad on, fingers shaking.

‘Ah darn it. My iPad’s frozen. It’s dead. I’m sorry.’

I see the giant pink bear I’m gonna buy my baby for Christmas in the window of the store and I keep chatting anything I can think off, coz first rule of eye contact is never lose eye contact. She’s gonna go any second, who wants to stand around in this?

My coach is here today too. He’s not usually outside, just appears like batman sometimes an’ signs up first three people he sees.  Good-looking, well-spoken dude, people are drawn to him like bees to honey, was gonna be a professional athlete till he had some kind of accident someone said. Must’ve sucked. Something bad like that happen to someone like him. Happened to me too. Had three scholarships for basketball, then I injured my knee and never played the same, didn’t know what the future held. Then I found this job, and now I just wanna do good, and make it to team leader. Rumour has it, Coach doesn’t get on with higher management. He’s gonna leave, he’s already got a subcontract from a real-good ethical agency. I want to go with him. This place would cancel on us, like we're bad quality sign ups. I don't want to be a monthly thing, I want a future.

‘Go inside’, Coach shouts pointing down the subway stairs.

My lips are completely numb, so I gesture for the lady to follow me down the stairs. The warm thick air in the subway allows my fingers to move again and revives my iPad. I start to punch in her name and address and at the same time I’m trying to tell her more about pollution an’ how it’s givin’ kids asthma, and I can tell her about every damn lake around this city if she’d just listen to me.

‘I’m going to be late for my train’ she keeps glancing over her shoulder and then back at the iPad.

We’re nearly done, I promise ma’am. I just need to put your numbers in.’

‘Can you walk with me?’

God damn, I’m not allowed. Charity doesn’t like you walking with people, too intimidating, that’s why they call us chuggers, charity-muggers. I’d like to know what makes me the chugger. It’s not me driving the fancy car and I never mugged no-one. But I don’t know how many chances like this I’m gonna get, so I follow her down the escalator and all the way to the track tryin’ to put her details in until her train comes groaning and creaking into the station.

*                      *                      *                      *

The coach has reported back to the director of field about the weather conditions, and the director is now in a meeting with the owner of the agency, which happens to belong to a large disreputable sales company. 

Director of field: ‘I’m going to tell the Chicago team to come inside. Jake’s out there and he says the conditions are bad, it’s too cold’

Owner: ‘What-do-you-mean too cold?? Fund-It are out there. Have you gone soft, you’ve gone soft, I knew it. Do you think Fund-It’s director of field is telling everyone to quit today?’

Director of field: ‘Fund-It are a door-to-door company. Anyway, I know them. They won’t work in this either. It’s not ethical.’

Owner: ‘Why aren’t we a door-to-door company? We’re gonna miss the investor’s target and Bob’s gonna fire us! Why would he want a few measly signups from us if he’s got people bringing in more? I’m done. Face-to-face is old. It’s all about digital now. I’m done with this rag-tag bunch of hippies. We need to get the sales teams on this.’

Director of field: ‘That won’t work.’

Owner: ‘Why not?’

Director of field: ‘Because fundraising isn’t sales. I keep telling you that.’

Owner: The sales teams get the numbers. We need some chuggers! Isn’t that what you call them?’

Director of field: ‘No, I don’t. Do you? Is that what happens when fundraising becomes sales? When people just see dollar signs?’

*                      *                      *                      *

In the charity office, our client’s office, they’re also discussing the weather and its impact on fundraising. 

Bob, head of fundraising: ‘Look at that blizzard. It’s a bad one.’

Claire, head of marketing: ‘Do the teams really work in this?’

Bob: ‘Yes, they work in all weathers, that’s what they said. They’re well behind the end of year targets, but their team doesn’t seem to be as big as they said it was when we met with them here.’

Claire: ‘I thought 1500 staff was a lot.’

Bob: ‘I read an article today about face-to-face. Do you know what they used to call them in the UK? Chuggers.’

Claire: ‘Chuggers?’

Bob: Yes. Charity muggers. I wonder how much training they get? I wouldn’t want them pressuring anyone. Do you think we should ask for fundraisers with a university degree?’  

Claire: ‘I don’t think the term charity mugger would go down well in the diversity and inclusion meeting, Bob. Doesn’t seem quite right. Well, it’s a hard job. I couldn’t do it, even with a degree, I couldn’t handle that much rejection.’

Bob: ‘Neither could I. It was a good call to give the teams the coffee cups wasn’t it? That’ll help, I’m sure.’

Claire: ‘We should visit the team, I think there’s one downtown.’

Bob: ‘Yes, we should. As soon as this weather clears up.’

*                      *                      *                      *

‘Just your signature. Just your signature. Right here Ma’am.’ I hear my voice like it’s coming from somewhere else, sounds desperate.

She zigzags the screen with a sharp nail with silver sequins glued to it, my girl does hers the same way.

‘Thank you’ in big black letters flashes up on my iPad screen.

‘Thank you, Ma’am, thank you so much. Merry Christmas.’ She waves to me as the train pulls out.

I did it. Then I look down at my hand, and realise I never gave her the reusable cup. 

I walk past a man sitting on cardboard as I head outside again. 

‘Here you go.’ I say, passing him the cup. ‘I think you need this more than her. Happy Holidays.’

Note: This article is a follow-up to this wonderful piece by Anne – Bill’s Story.

About the author: Anne Marshall

Anne Marshall

Anne Marshall is Founder of Loudher, a fundraising and training agency based in Brighton, UK which teaches face-to-face communication and leadership using theatre based and fundraising skills. She has written for various publications such as Huffington Post UK, and is part of the Creative Writing Programme, Brighton where she is working on her first novel.

Related case studies or articles

Face-to-face fundraising: Bill’s story

Anne Marshall, Director of Field Operations for the Canada division of agency Up Fundraising, tells the inspirational tale of her friend Bill and how he is one of the best face-to-face fundraisers she’s ever met.

Read more

The face-to-face fundraisers back on the street after lockdown

As face-to-face fundraising markets slowly reopened in parts of Europe, Peter Steinmayer, Head of Face-to-Face at the Austrian Fundraising Association (Fundraising Verband Austria), shared his insights from the fundraisers’ first days back on the streets of Vienna.

Read more

Also in Categories