This morning, as I emerged blinking from Chancery Lane station on my way to work, I was confronted by a young lady sporting a nylon tunic emblazoned with the words ‘Every Child’ and a fat clipboard full of Direct Debit forms. As I approached, she began to play out some ridiculous dumb show of desperation worthy of the sad clown in a cut-price circus and entreating myself and the guy walking immediately ahead of me to “Pleeeeeease stop and talk to me!” in pathetic, ‘can-I-have-a-pony-Daddy?’ tones. In response to her transparent and two dimensional plea, I fixed on my best chugger-proof thousand yard stare (they can’t catch your eye if you look through them!) and trundled blithely on. My fellow pedestrian, however, felt no such need for reserve in his response, calling out loudly “there’s a good reason why no-one’s talking to you, love, it’s because you’re a f***ing parasite!”
A crass and imbalanced response to a kind-hearted soul trying to make a difference, you might say; a callous dismissal of the efforts of a good, honest individual to make a difference to the cruel world we live in? Not so, say I! Let us take a moment to examine the economics of this new, self-made industry sector and see if there might actually be some mileage in this young man’s claim.
Some years ago, whilst I was still at university supplementing my student by loan working in a bar up to five nights a week and living in a shared house, one of my then housemates came home announcing that she had found ‘an amazing job’ which allowed her to work just one day a week and bring home more money than my five bar shifts used to earn. Intrigued, I asked for more details of this wonder job and sat back as my housemate launched into a breathless account of how she and her fearless new colleagues were out to save the world. “Firstly, she gasped, in a froth of self-congratulatory altruism, “the best thing about the job is that it’s working for charity!” So far, so good I thought; charity is good. “Basically, you go out with a team of people and you talk to people in the street and you ask them to sign up to donate money for your charity.” “Which charity is this?” I asked. “Oh, it could be a different charity every week, we work through an agency” she replied. At this point, alarm bells began to ring.
To cut a long story short, it transpired that my housemate was being paid around £9.50 per hour to stand in the street, harassing the general public into surrendering their direct debit details and donate to charity making, over a ten hour shift a daily total of £95, which was a pretty damn good take home for a days work for a 20 year old student. Add to that the fact that employment agencies of any sort levy a charge on top of this daily wage to the employer, in this case the charity, which can easily be equal to or even in excess of the actual wages paid to the employee. Lets be generous in this case and assume that the agency in question charges 30% on top of wage charges. That leaves a daily cost to the charity in question of £123.50. After a rushed mental calculation, I exclaimed to my housemate “wow, you must have to work really hard to pay for yourself; how many are you expected to sign up in a day?” “One” she replied, “at least while we’re new to the job, later on you’re expected to be better at it, the really good ones get four or five in a day!”. Four and five in a day sounds like a pretty low rate considering the cost; “how much are these four or five people donating?”; “about £3.50 a month on average”.
I was gobsmacked! I couldn’t help it, the calculator came out.
“I hate to piss on your parade,” I said, five minutes later “but at one signee per day for £3.50 a month, you’d need to work for 35 days straight, or seven full working weeks to bring in enough revenue from initial payments to pay your wages for a single day. To put it another way, the one person that you sign up today has to maintain this direct debit for just shy of three years before what you did today becomes profitable for the charity that hired you. I fail to see how this is a good thing you are doing.”
Two days later, my housemate returns from a second shift ‘chugging’, “we are raising awareness” she says, “increasing the public brand visibility of the charities we work for”. Sure you are, you’re raising my awareness of the fact that people in nylon tunics are to be avoided; you’re raising my awareness of the depths to which unscrupulous agencies and cash strapped students will stoop; you’re raising my awareness of exactly how much voluntarily donated cash intended for charity use gets siphoned off into the pockets of middlemen and smooth talkers. I fail to see how this is a good thing!
If you really want to donate to a charity, do it via their website.