I have been working for the last three months as a charity fundraiser, or chugger (charity mugger) as you may well know it. This job consists of standing on some high street during daylight hours trying to stop people and convince them to give some of their monthly paycheck in a direct debit to charity.
I have worked for three charities during this time – Amnesty International, Marie Curie and Shelter. Though they protest that this role is not sales, it really is – the main difference being that you’re not offering each donor anything in return except a sense of good will.
Most people’s objection to this occupation is that it is a dubious way of soliciting money from a naive public. My problem is the exact opposite – indeed, there are so many checks a fundraiser must do to ensure that the donor is entirely unambiguous in what they are signing up for.
No, my problem is the effect that fundraising has on the fundraisers themselves. While most companies are unsympathetic in wanting their staff to be in constant health and high spirits – fundraising takes it a step further in that unless as an employee you turn up in perfect health and spirits, it is difficult, if not impossible to perform your job.
When it is difficult to convince charities to give you time off to recover from a physical injury and a hopeless cause trying to convince them to excuse for mental illness, you find yourself having to turn up to avoid punishment, but still risk punishment for a sub-par performance. Without adequate workers’ protections in these cases and a ruthless approach from management, who treat staff like farmers treat chickens who’ve stopped laying, you can find yourself in a no-win situation.
As a result, I’ve seen so many young people come into these jobs giving so much positive energy relentlessly for weeks, only to burnout and succumb to depression only to have the sword of Damocles fall upon them. I’ve seen such dramatic deterioration in the mental health of other fundraisers that I’ve become utterly disillusioned with a job I once enjoyed.
Indeed, I would encourage people not to sign up to fundraisers, as it rewards charities for bad behaviour. The starkest contrast I’ve seen is with Shelter, whom I currently work for. They preach to work without judgement in solving peoples’ housing crises – saying that the people they help are seldom in control of their destinies, and a myriad circumstances have led them to the brink of desperation. Yet they take the opposite approach with their fundraising staff; brandishing the whip and threatening the staff with the sack if they fail to meet targets, regardless of circumstance, without caring to understand why someone might be flagging – refusing time off, expecting staff to leave their stresses at home.
If you’re having a bad day, you can drag yourself through almost any job – you can be passive, let the energy drain out of you and live to fight another day. In fundraising, however, you must be always proactive, and stress can become quite problematic if not addressed.
I don’t expect to last the week at Shelter. Ironically I am in considerable danger of becoming homeless myself, and if I leave or get sacked by Shelter now, it is ironically unlikely that they will help me in the future if that does come to pass.
As almost all fundraisers are likely to feel at some point in their fundraising career, I need a miracle to save me now.