'Rule of thumb is: the older they are, the longer they stay' - training booklet
Published 30/07/2016 | 02:30
Amnesty International advises its on-street 'direct dialogue fundraisers' to seek out donors over the age of 50, as they are more likely to continue donating until their death.
A training booklet provided to new Amnesty collectors, known commonly as charity muggers or 'chuggers', states they are to sign up no more than 40pc under 25s.
However, Amnesty stressed that of the 3,034 people signed up this year only 4.9pc were over the age of 50.
An Irish Independent investigation uncovered that one of the most important aspects of Amnesty training for chuggers is how and who to approach for donations.
Our reporter, who worked as an Amnesty chugger, was told during training on how to gain street donors that "research from 2008 said 60pc of over-50s were shown to stay until death".
"Average age gives a good general indicator of the age groups you are signing up. Rule of thumb is, the older they are, the longer they stay," one section of the handbook said.
The section containing the advice - called 'donor quality' - is highlighted to new chuggers as the most important part of the guidebook. However, after being questioned about it by this paper, Amnesty said the line would now be taken out.
The Amnesty booklet has been heavily criticised by both the National Federation of Pensioners Associations (NFPA) and Age Action Ireland, with the NFPA now calling for such street sign-up initiatives to be made illegal.
Harry Rose, president of NFPA, said his organisation was concerned about the advice handed out to collectors by AI.
"We have known about [older people not cancelling subscriptions] for quite some time and we have warned our members," he said.
"We say if you want to give, make a one-off payment - but don't sign up to anything."
He called for collections on the street, involving handing over data such as bank details to sign up for long-term donations, to be made illegal.
"I have heard a number of times - and a number of people have suggested - that these collections, where you're asked to hand over details, should be made illegal. We would go along with that," he said.
Justin Moran from Age Action Ireland also raised concerns and said the advice to the chuggers was cynical and insensitive.
"I think they should look at the phrasing 'until death'. If it's from someone who is 50, that could be 20 years or more of donations," he said. "Older people are less likely to cancel their subscriptions - but there is a reason for that."
Mr Moran said the charity could be exploiting a "digital literacy gap", which has made older people concerned about signing up for direct debit.
"The advice to collectors that older people are more likely to stay seems very cynical to me," he added. "One of the reasons they don't like to use direct debits is specifically so they're not caught out by things like this."
Colm O'Gorman, Amnesty's chief executive in Ireland, said the line in the booklet regarding over 50s was "clunkily written" and open to misinterpretation.
"The idea that Amnesty International, or our fundraising, is in some way targeting older people is nonsense - it's simply not true," he said.
"There's nothing in how Amnesty operates in our fundraising efforts that in any way targets older people as members or donors, or somehow seeks to exploit older people.
"As someone who's 50, I find the notion of older people being somehow incapable of making decisions kind of bizarre."
However, he accepted the line "is not well conceived and certainly it's something that will be taken out of the handbook".
The Irish Independent contacted 16 high-profile charities and NGOs to ask whether it was policy to inform on-street collectors that older donors were more likely to give for longer. ActionAid said: "Our fundraisers are advised to sign up people 23-plus and not more than 75. Our fundraisers are asked to not sign up anyone they perceive to be vulnerable."
Concern said it would prefer to make sure donors signing up were genuinely committed to its emergency and development work, "regardless of their age".
Oxfam said it welcomes direct debit payments from anyone over 18. Focus Ireland said it hasn't used on-street fundraising "for a few years".
The Dublin Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (DSPCA) said it did not use on-street fundraising and actively opposed it.