Giving charity to doorknockers

Giving to doorknockers

Charity doorknockers asking for donations are on the increase. Registered charities announce publicly the day that they will be door knocking for funds, and their collectors will have obvious identification (badges, T-shirts, sashes and so on). But what is the likelihood that you will support giving to doorknockers?

Giving to charity doorknockers is often low on people’s priority list. Generally people prefer to donate funds at their own initiative, through online campaigns or charity boxes in stores, rather than during door-to-door appeals for funding. People are busy and they are rarely home. When they are home, they are not enthusiastic about strangers asking for money face-to-face.

Over the past few years charity fundraising door-to-door became popular as a way of asking people to sign onto regular payment schemes and subscriptions (through direct debit). Often these schemes have difficult to determine rules about ceasing payments. And collectors often put pressure on people to sign immediately.

In March 2014 some of Australia’s most recognized charities were under scrutiny for dubious door knocking practices. Consumer Affairs investigated charities that visited remote communities asking for regular ongoing payments. Some communities had unemployment rates of up to 80% in which more than 50 people signed regular payment plans. The charity collectors had identification, a brochure, and a specific spiel requesting funding – and asking for bank details. One scheme was $20 every two weeks and another scheme was $30 a month. One was seeking money for disadvantaged children and the other for animals affected by drought. The people who signed the form realized after several payments that they could not afford to maintain the donations. One person was a single mother with six children.

People are busy and they are rarely home. When they are home, they are not enthusiastic about strangers asking for money face-to-face.

The Indigenous Consumer Assistance Network raised the alarm in one community and Consumer Affairs investigated the matter quickly. The regular payment contracts were cancelled. One well-known charity indicated that it fired the collectors involved. Even though no money changed hands at the time, payments were debited regularly, and Consumer Affairs deemed the practice to be taking advantage of people wanting to be polite and charitable. The donors were not always fully aware of the extent of the donations or the “out clause.” One contract stated, in fine print, that 95% of the donations would go towards administrative costs. Consumer Affairs said the sign-up tactics were aggressive, unscrupulous, exploitative, and broke the code of conduct. Fair Trading also conducted an investigation. These three organizations show that, if you feel exploited, there are government agencies that will investigate on your behalf.

The Charity Commission monitors concerns, as does the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) in England, which sets a code of conduct for charity collectors. Other countries have codes of conduct, codes of practice, or regulations such as the Charities Act.

In England the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) – that promotes a code of conduct – said there was a 32% increase in charity doorknockers. The average monthly sign-up payment for all charities was the equivalent of almost $300 million over five years. In 2012 alone there were 31 million “solicitations” compared with 12 million in 2008. One charity in England persuaded 625,134 people to sign a direct debit monthly contract, an increase of 12% on the previous year. PFRA said that 85% of donors in England giving to doorknockers were under the age of 40.

Charities like this approach because it is more effective than telephone calls and standing in shopping malls (in fact up to three times more effective). It also enables charities to know the amount of funds coming in each month, so that they can plan ahead for the distribution of their support.  Those on the receiving end – such as disadvantaged groups, cancer research, and children in developing countries – are guaranteed an allocation of funds.

However, with the rise of charity organization doorknockers, some neighbourhoods have a constant flow of people knocking. One day I received four telephone calls from separate charities, so can you imagine a rise in doorknockers, especially in the evenings!! The record amounts of funding make door knocking attractive for charities. For the individual, consider whether you are comfortable with this approach, before opening he door or giving bank details. Read the documents and fine print, and ask questions. Take the forms and take time to think it over. There are many ways to be charitable that are ethical and spiritually fulfilling, in which you have control of the amount, duration, and cause.

Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls

Martina Nicolls specialises in human rights, peace and reconciliation, disaster relief, and aid development, primarily in developing countries, states in transition, and conflict zones. She is the author of four books: The Sudan Curse, Kashmir on a Knife-Edge, Bardot’s Comet and Liberia’s Deadest Ends.

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