Street fundraisers are not subject to the same level of negative media scrutiny as they have been in the past, and attacks on them through social media are by no means as prevalent as they once were.
But that doesn’t mean objections to “chuggers” have disappeared. Some of the most unjust and undeserved stereotypes – that street fundraising is the second choice trade of failed actors or the first-choice source of pocket money for students in their gap year – still abound. The myth persists that being a street fundraiser is somehow not a real job.
One of the problems is that some people in the charity sector seem to buy into this myth. While these attitudes persist, I wonder whether we, as a sector, will ever be fully able to persuade the public and media that street fundraisers are passionately committed to their charities and causes.
Street fundraisers have to be accepted as fully-fledged members of the fundraising profession, and not fundraising’s dirty little secret.
While the failed actors stereotype might have rung true 10 to 15 years ago, it’s not the case any more. Over the past decade, street fundraising has become a bonafide entry point for a career in the voluntary sector. During that time, increasing numbers of street fundraisers have moved on to work in charity fundraising departments on a whole range of fundraising roles, including direct mailing, corporate, major gifts and digital; fundraisers such as Christian Dapp at Brain Research Trust, Sam Butler at St John Ambulance and Katherine Payne at the Royal London Society for the Blind. Some have gone on to become heads of department; some, like Rowena Lewis at Gingerbread, have become directors of fundraising.
Street fundraising is serving as an unofficial apprenticeship for a brilliant new generation of fundraisers, many of whom might never have worked for charities had they not started as street fundraisers.
Flow Caritas has begun research to identify how street fundraisers make the transition from the street into fundraising departments. Early indications suggest that the values and experience they gained on the street are the main contributions: they learned their trade, their craft and their profession during this apprenticeship.
Our main reason for conducting this research is to help those young people who are now thinking about a career in the charity sector and aren’t sure whether replying to an advert on Gumtree is the best way to go about it. But I hope it will have a secondary impact. I believe we need to start a debate about the professional status of street fundraisers.
There is a continuous line between working on the street and working in a charity fundraising department. It’s not a sudden jump across a great divide between a “proper” or “real” charity job and the supposedly transitory position of being a street fundraiser. This is especially so now that most street fundraising is done by in-house teams, rather than agencies.
Once the fundraising sector recognises this it will bring enormous benefits. We can provide careers advice and guidance for new entrants to the profession arriving via street fundraising. We can provide bespoke professional development for those street fundraisers who want to move into office-based fundraising, perhaps fast-tracking their careers. And at those times when street fundraisers do come in for public criticism, I think we might see more readiness to come to their aid, since fundraisers will be defending “one of their own” rather than a bunch of students who just happen to be wearing that charity’s branding.
Since street fundraising has unarguably become a genuine entry point for a career in charity fundraising, it can no longer be dismissed as an adjunct to the fundraising profession. It’s the source of some of the best and brightest young fundraisers. It would be a terrible missed opportunity not to welcome them with open arms into the profession and give them every assistance in developing their careers.