Just Say “No” to Charity Muggers!


Share on LinkedIn

Hardly a day goes by without junkmail arriving from one new charity or another, asking for money for the many good causes out there. It has become a thriving industry.

Most of then don’t want a donation, no that would be far too difficult to ask for and you would likely say “No”. Instead, they use one or more of the persuasion tricks that Robert Cialdini described in his must-read book, ‘Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion’. And tricks they are.

One of the most common tricks is providing a small gift, say a set of personalised envelope stickers with your name and address, in the expectation that you will respond in kind (the rule of reciprocity) and of course give a much larger donation than the fractions of a cent the stickers cost the charity.

Another trick I have seen more of recently is to ask for just 50 cents a day rather than a larger sum. They don’t want cash of course, but rather for you to sign up to a rolling direct debit from your bank that ends up costing you hundreds of dollars over a period of time, but only 50 cents a day (the rules of small amounts and of delayed costs).

It has got so bad in the UK with hundreds of so-called charity workers from charities no-one has heard of, stopping people in the street and asking for signatures on that all important bank direct debit form, that they are now called charity muggers or ‘chuggers’ for short. Offer them cash and they look at you in dismay. They just want your signature as they get paid up to $200 for each signature they collect. There is a nasty sting in the tail too. If you sign up for $10 a month and cancel your direct debit after a year, the charity ends up loosing $80 into the pockets of the charity mugger. That makes it a triple mugging; the charity mugs you when you sign, and the charity mugger mugs the charity and mugs you a second time when you stop the direct debit.

I have nothing against charities, indeed, I regularly give to a small number myself. But there is a limit, particularly when it comes to the psychological trickery and definately when it comes to the charity muggers that they increasingly employ. It gets real charities a bad name and builds resistance to charitable giving. I want to give money to a worthy causes, but I don’t want to feel I have beem tricked and I certainly don’t want to pay a single cent towards a charity mugger.

Enough is enough. It is time to just say “No” to charity muggers!

What do you think? Are these legitimate tactics for charities to use? Or should they be more open and fair about the methods they use?

Post a comment and get the conversation going.

Graham Hill
Independent CRM Consultant
Interim CRM Manager

Further Reading:

Robert Cialdini on Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion

BBC on Confessions of a Street Fundraiser

Guardian on The Joy of Giving

Intelligent Giving on Charity Muggers

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamhill/


  1. Graham, great post. When I worked as a consumer advocate for a newspaper, we were kept busy trying to establish the credibility of groups publicizing themselves as charities. One trend is for retired police and firefighter associations to organize and collect money, ostensibly for crime-fighting directories and anti-child abuse brochures. When we investigated, we found that they pocketed as much as 85 percent of the take.

    Personally, I’m getting tired of receiving monthly mailings from charities I like and contribute to. When I consider all the paper, postage and printing costs, I cringe, thinking that most of my annual donation goes for all these come-ons. I know that charities find that they’re more successful getting more money out of existing donors than they are drumming up new donors. But it’s very annoying. When I adopted a dog 16 years ago, the rescue group I got her from told me they had used a $250 bequest to treat the mange she had when they found her. So I sent the rescue group $250 that December, with a note suggesting they use the money for another of their rescued animals. The next thing I knew, I was getting a membership packet and regular mailings to remind me to renew or increase my membership level. I hated the way they had systemized everything. It took away all the good feelings I had in giving.

    A final note. Locally, Target stores have turned away the people who used to waylay shoppers for donations outside the entrance. There’s a note on the doors, saying Target wants shoppers to have a good experience and not be pestered. I was thrilled when Target did this. But shortly afterward, a National Public Radio talk show spent an hour questioning why people were suddenly anti-charity. They had someone from the Salvation Army on moaning about how they could no longer ring their bells outside Target. But there was no one representing Target —or the customers who didn’t have to run the hand-out gauntlet when they shopped.

    Gwynne Young, Managing Editor, CustomerThink

  2. Gwynne

    I am not a rich person but I try and behave as philanthropically as my limited means allow. I give to whom I choose and don’t feel bad when I turn other charities down. The charities I give to use their funds wisely for the things they stand for, nothing else.

    They recognise that they exist only because society allows them to do so. Just like for-profit businesses. Should society turn against them they will simply disappear. It would appear that greed has become good for some charities. That in best Gordon Gecko style, it is about the money not about the charitable works. These are no longer charities. They are simply not-for-profit businesses.

    Next time you are approached by a direct debit charity mugger. Think carefully before you line the pockets of the chuggers and the businesses who send them out. Perhaps there are real charities who deserve your help.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  3. So True!

    Interestingly, these charities are also applying standard direct marketing techniques as part of their work. Namely, they group their target audience into various buckets by likelihood to donate. Then they treat each bucket of people differently based on expected yield.

    For example, a friend of ours is on the board of one charity. Hence we must have been marked as a high value target so that we are getting more than one mail per WEEK from these guys. I bet our original donation will be eaten up by postage costs soon. Feels offensive.

    Akin / Unica

  4. Akin

    I am sure there is an interesting metrics angle in there…

    It is interesting to see how the adoption of aggresive, perhaps even deceptive direct marketing techniques by some greedy charities is leading to the same problems as those experienced by for-profit businesses. Potential doners are alienated by aggresive marketing. So they stop donating (except to local charities). So the aggressiveness and trickiness of marketing is ratchetted-up. Eventually it becomes a problem in the media and legislators step-in with ready-made solutions (sic). It is the tragedy of the marketing commons all over again.

    The common factor seems to be marketers. Hhmmm. I wonder.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  5. There are some charitable organizations who practice CRM, such as the one I work for. We don’t want to deluge you with mailings, calls, or e-mails unless you want them. Contact us and let us know and we will change your donor file to reflect that. On the other hand, we also buy or rent mailing lists from catalog companies, magazines, etc. If you’re in our file as Graham Hill, but have a magazine subscription as “G. Hill” you may get a mailing from us even though you’ve told us not to contact you. The vendors sell us overlays that are supposed to recognize you by address, but they are very imperfect. So you wind up with two records, one suppressing contacts, the other not.

    Still, the best way is to reply back to the charity and explain your wishes to them.

  6. Glenn

    I really feel for you in your difficult situation, particularly as I recently lost a younger sister to the disease your charity tries to combat. I also recognise the difficulty you face in managing your donor list in an effective way. All of us involved daily in direct marketing activities do. And I am pretty sure that your charity doesn’t cause offence to donors, even if it does occasionally double-mail donors by mistake.

    The challenge we all face is in combatting the bogus charities who use aggressive techniques worthy of the most loathsome spammers. The ones who bombard you with deceptive mails. The ones who despatch tricky door-to-door salewomen to harvest bank direct debits. The ones who employ charity muggers at great expense. They are the ones who we should send away with some well chosen words. So that real charities like yours can continue to do the good deeds that have become so important for the disadvantaged in society today.

    I wish you all the luck in the world.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  7. Graham,

    I have to respectfully disagree. I annually donate to a very good charity that works to find a cure for a disease and help people with the disease, and when I got a plea for more money a few months after I had already given my annual donation, I hit the roof. The worst part about it for me was, as I said in my earlier comment, that the charity was asking me to “renew my membership.” I didn’t want to be a member, and I just wanted to help people.

    Now, on the positive side, the charity was very responsive to my request to not be badgered—as Glenn is trying to do with his organization. But the people there still do forget, and I’ll start to get a lot of mailers from them. And then I’ll have to call or write them again.

    I just don’t like the whole concept that once you’ve donated money, you’re on the list to be bugged forever. Bug the people who aren’t giving money! 🙂

    Gwynne Young, Managing Editor, CustomerThink

  8. Thanks, Graham. Here in the US, offically, we call them “Look-alikes.” Unoffically, well, I can’t repeat that here.

    They design their names and logos to appear as close to legitimate charities as possible. People on the receiving end think they’re getting mail from us when it’s really going to a bogus organization. So they give to a bogus charity thereby robbing the legitimate charity of the income. Or, they confuse the donor who complains to us about multiple mailings when we have only sent one.

    They’re scum. Here in the US, donors should check out a charity by going to give.org, the Web site run by the Better Business Bureau.



  9. In this day and age, and especially with all the skepticism towards charities, how can we expect charities not to apply business strategies in order to generate funds. Most charities will reveal the benefits of your contributions, and no one gets anything for free these days anyway.

    You all have highlighted great justifications for not contributing. What a classic excuse, claiming that you are concerned about whether your money will be used up on advertising and not reach those in need.

    Why not visit these organizations and see for yourself how these charities are contributing to their cause.
    Try and experience the gratitude you will receive from those reached by such organizations then you will not be so tight about your money.
    Or take some time to find an organization that you do trust.

    The automatic payments make sense in that they take the hassle out of contributing and what isnt payed via APs these days. A lot of people are happy to use these systems for things such as hire purchases. They need to keep up to date with how people are living their lives!

  10. Hi Michelle2000

    As I said in my earlier post, I am not by any stretch of the imagination rich, but I do give philanthropically to needy causes within my limited means.

    What interests me is that every last cent that I give to a charity is used for charitable work. I recognise that charities have overheads, but I want to keep those to a minimum. What I and most other people object to is on the one hand, hard-given contributions being squandered on commissions paid to the field sales force of slippery ‘charity muggers’ employed by charities and on the other hand, the sense of entitlement that some charities seem to have once they get their hands on a donor’s standing order.

    We face in difficult times. I have talked to many of my friends about charity muggers and persuaded quite a number of them to cancel the standing oders they were tricked into signing. I have come to the conclusion that whilst the end recipients are nearly always worthy of any charity provided, the charitable organistions that collect money in this way are not.

    Graham Hill
    Customer-centric Innovator
    Follow me on Twitter

    Interested in Customer Driven Innovation? Join the Customer Driven Innovation groups on LinkedIn or Facebook to learn more.

  11. It a government failure that opens up the opportunity for charities, endorsed by government.

    It’s promoted as acceptable. It’s pretty much responsible for ridiculous health care costs and patheltic lucerative treatment options.

    These parasites come with a smile and parade as our advocates.

    The public do get suckered in to do the work and empty their pockets. I’ve noticed many fundraisers acquire illnesses in the name of a cause.

    Too many people skimming and pushing their non-profit business ties. They stick with their own, they give to their own and pay the cause enough to stay under the radar.

    I started this year by offering my full support & co-operative. I’ve never met so many liers & self promoters in my life.

    Charity could be good but the charity system is dead and buried. It’s no longer about care, it’s just about exploiting an easy target.

    The organisers know what they are doing, MLM marketing all the way & they need your time and skill to maintain the parasite lifestyle.

    Try getting one of them to help the cause without helping their charities provile, the charity love starts running away.

    The nature of giving is a one sided affair. More people should stop to ask themselves why. They do business, not quality, not quantity, not helping the true cause. They keep the prices up within the financially stretched industry & parade as the peoples champions.

    Nothing more than corner shops run by con artist who generally rely on MLM instead of truew effort. Their work is generally a distraction the whole point of the cause.

    Charity has been the biggest hoax of the last century & flourishing. The poor get poorer, the sick get sicker, and we have hero’s created to promote it further.

    So fustrating because this form of greed ingrained into culture.

    From now on in, the charity cliques can KMA, if they are worth their salt, we wont have a problem.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here