I have been a little quiet on my 2016 mission of doing something about face-to-face charity workers on the streets of Sydney, and apologise for that. However, I have not been (all that) idle in the last few weeks, as I have been speaking and emailing a couple of people who actually do this work. Yes, I have been corresponding with the enemy.
And you know what? They were all very lovely people who really, really didn’t like doing this work either.
Their insights were very interesting, and to me are a great summary of all that is wrong with the current state of regulation of the chugging market in New South Wales.
There is really one big company that employs chuggers on behalf of charities. And its name is…
Cobra Group. I kid you not. Look, they even have a website where they try and justify their existence.
As soon as I learned the company hiring and contacting chuggers was the same name as the big bad criminal organisation in GI Joe, the world of charity collection made a little more sense to me.
Cobra enters into service agreements with various charities to run the face-to-face and door-to-door charity collection operations on behalf of these charities. It is Cobra that does all the selection and hiring of chuggers, contracts with them, pays them, and takes a cut of the proceeds raised on the street by their workers before passing the balance back to the relevant charity.
I haven’t found any hard evidence to support this, but the people I interviewed seemed to think the money raised by the people on the street was split as follows: 20% to the chugger, 50% to Cobra for administration costs other than salaries / commissions paid to the chugger (that’s the previous 20%), and the remaining 30% to the charity.
One kind person even emailed me the job advertisement that Cobra uses when looking for new people to work as face-to-face charity workers. It is about what you would expect:
Thanks for showing an interest in the advertised position. After reading your application I’m delighted to be able to offer you an interview for this position on Monday 3rd March at 9am PLEASE DON’T BE LATE as you may miss your interview place. we will go over all aspects of the position and will answer any questions you may have. Address: [withheld]. Opportunity: Urgent position to fill, we are looking for you to start immediately; we will provide all training, no experience necessary. Big launch on a public awareness campaign for Amnesty International concerning everyone in Australia! I look forward to seeing you. Any problems or questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.
What it is like to work as a chugger
I will let the people I interviewed tell their story. Each has agreed to allow me to post their comments on condition of remaining anonymous. I have censored the more descriptive language as well, but I am sure you will be able to fill in the blanks.
Person 1: Payment
I can’t remember exactly but I was on around $700 a week. I only got commission for a sign up after I had signed up 7 people in a week. Then I got $50 commission a sign up. We had to sign people up to a $30 a month deal. The place I worked for had multiple charities they raised for. Lots of backpackers / travellers were doing it.
The managers get you to learn a script they’ve written and get you to nod, smile and agree lots with the person you’re trying to get sign up. Most of the managers seemed to be full of themselves like they had been reading “The Secret”. “If you believe you can do it, you can do it” type weirdos. Some people were making lots of money, especially the hot girls. Most were not but they get a constant flow of travellers to replace them so it’s ok.
The spots they stand in have all been organised with the local councils, and they have to book these spots for the days they want to work there. To be honest, they annoy the **** out of me too, and I really hated myself when I was doing it but I don’t think they should be banned, these people are just trying to make a living and helping a charity. People really need to chill out a bit, someone asked you for a minute of your time every now and then and you act like you were just assaulted.
Person 2: Life on the street
A lot of these chuggers are roped into the job via fancy marketing job ads that promise lots of travel opportunities, and lots of money. You end up getting to travel to Blacktown and Mount Druitt, and have to attempt to coerce some of the lowest income earners in Sydney to hand over their money.
Its generally commission based, one sign up is approx. $100 for the chugger. The aim is 2 sign ups per day. Only the best of the best will ever hit 2, and these are the ones who have sold their souls for money.
There is no regulation. These “companies” constantly change their names, but can sometimes be associated with “The Cobra Group” – googling that name will get you lots of hits. When you join, you don’t work for the company, you work for yourself as a contractor. They force you to create an ABN and sign lots of paperwork, basically freeing them of any liability and offering you zero protection – “BUT THINK OF THE MONEY YOU COULD MAKE!”
I did it for 3 days when I was 18 and fresh out of high school. It didn’t sit well with me that I was approaching people and making them feel uncomfortable and cornered simply to make quick buck. Also it was absolutely draining having to put on a smile all day long whilst people actively avoided me – like being rejected a thousand times.
If anyone reading this is job searching, you should be smart enough to smell these places from a mile away. Their job ads ALL HAVE CAPITAL LETTERS!!!! Interviews are very unprofessional, their offices are usually temporary / rented out, and they will often gloss right over you and feed you a spiel before asking you anything about yourself. You are often taken on a field adventure to observe other chugger superstars use their tactics on the public. Your “mentor” for the day might also walk into a jewellery or pawn store to look at expensive things, as if they have SO MUCH MONEY from this wonderful job to flaunt and spend on anything they like. If you ever find yourself in a place like this, save yourself the time and just leave.
Person 3: The interview process
The “interview” was in a group of around 10, there were backpacker-looking people. They asked questions like “why do you want to work for Amnesty”, general interview questions. I was desperate for a job at the time, so I said how I was part of the Amnesty group during high school, and did some projects relating to Dafur or something.
The money raising was for child soldiers… somewhere. Forgot which country, sorry.
They obviously knocked people back- the ones who weren’t that convincing, or didn’t speak English that well, or seemed tardy. There were some people who came to the interview looking quite casual (wearing thongs or whatever), and they were knocked back too. It was easy to guess which people were knocked back.
The second day I came in (training day) was when they went through their whole spiel of “you can go on interstate trips! We go on team-building camping exercises and tell stories around a campfire!”. The person leading it was someone who had started from the bottom and worked his way up to the top (of course…). We learnt about how to sell things (like asking lots of questions with a “yes” answer, so when it came to the final “would you like to donate” question, they would also say “yes”), and the whole commission system.
Thank you to everyone that agreed to let me ask them questions on this. It was a very interesting experience for me, and hopefully a helpful and insightful one for you, the reader.