EDITORIAL: Perhaps a lighter touch could solve the gauntlet run?

Lucy Maggs

The face-to-face fundraising debate has raged in the voluntary sector for years. Its critics say that the slalom shoppers face on the high street gives charities a bad name, and the idea that the fundraisers are paid is distasteful to the public.

But for charities such as the National Deaf Children's Society it has been hugely successful. This year the organisation is expecting to raise more than £160 million from face-to-face, at least 60 per cent of its total voluntary income. Advocates argue that it is an effective way of recruiting the elusive under-35s who have never given to charity before and do not respond to direct mail and other marketing.

But despite the success stories, a number of charities are starting to respond to public antipathy. Medecins Sans Frontieres has halted its face-to-face fundraising activities because of the overcrowded market, while Greenpeace, the first charity to use the medium in the UK, has responded to irate Londoners' complaints by pulling out of the city. Fundraisers at the charity felt the streets were too crowded with chuggers, or charity muggers, as face-to-face fundraisers have come to be called.

Face-to-face has become a victim of its own success: charities saw the results and more and more started to use it. The market has become increasingly competitive and the streets crowded with students sporting charity bibs.

But the excessive use of face-to-face has jeopardised the future of an effective method of raising money. The street fundraising body the PFRA has tried to prevent patches from being over used, but the public are still fed up.

The NSPCC is launching a fundraising drive, setting up stalls in public places such as shopping centres to catch the eye of passing shoppers who can approach fundraisers for information. This softer slant on face-to-face fundraising could help overcome the public perception of aggressive fundraisers and give the method a new lease of life.

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