Wednesday 25 April 2018

Special investigation: Teaching chuggers to close the hard sell

In the second of our three-part series, Sarah-Jane Murphy looks at the Amnesty chugger’s ‘bible’ – the handbook

Sarah-Jane Murphy putting the teachings of the Amnesty handbook into practice on Dublin’s Henry Street. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Sarah-Jane Murphy putting the teachings of the Amnesty handbook into practice on Dublin’s Henry Street. Photo: Caroline Quinn

Sarah-Jane Murphy

Chuggers who work for Amnesty are expressly told that the 'Fundraiser Handbook' is their 'bible' and must be strictly followed at all times.

Our training involved a staff member reading aloud every page of this manual, with certain passages flagged as 'golden rules'.

The booklet itself admits that face-to-face fundraising "is controversial" but says charities that use it "develop and become well known".

Chugging is highly successful in netting younger, more lucrative donors for the NGO, with the booklet stating that the average age of a donor recruited on the street is 29, more than 20 years younger than a donor who joins the organisation via other channels.

It is a huge income generator.

"Over 50pc of Amnesty International's annual income comes from face-to-face fundraising alone," page one of the handbook reveals.

It used to be virtually impossible for a charity or NGO to accurately project how much it would receive in donations in a given year, but the advent of chugging has changed that.

The booklet illustrates that chugging is king because it is cost-effective, with evidence showing that it is more effective than direct mail, TV and radio ads or billboards.

It also makes the organisation visible in the eyes and minds of the public - it's very difficult to miss the fluorescent yellow uniforms worn by chuggers in the city.

But the main reason it is so popular is because it is classed as 'unrestricted funding', which the handbook says "can be used for any project or other work, unlike government grants or foundations that must be spent on specific projects and are non-transferable".

This means that Amnesty can quickly direct funding where it is most needed.

However, it also means that while you may be canvassed by a chugger in relation to a particular campaign, your monthly direct debit may be used to fund a different project.

There are two vital lessons a new street fundraiser needs to learn at the outset: who to approach and how to approach them.

Read more: 'You're a filthy b**** who doesn't deserve kids' - How I went undercover on streets with the chuggers

The issue of who to approach is dealt with in a section labelled 'Donor Quality' and was highlighted during training as "extremely important".

It states that key performance indicators are used to measure the quality of donors and to gauge the likely longevity of their subscriptions.

The handbook warns that no more than 40pc of on-street sign-ups should be aged under 25. Soon-to-be chuggers are told that donors aged over 25 are "a much better long-term prospect".

This is because they tend to give for more consecutive years and 'long-term givers' are the holy grail, as they're vital to Amnesty's future planning.

"Average age gives a good general indicator of the age groups you are signing up. Rule of thumb is that the older they are, the longer they stay," the booklet reads.

Our trainer pointed out that a long-term giver will evolve into a donor of advanced years, a group that is extremely valuable to the organisation, as generous legacies in wills are an important form of annual revenue for the organisation.

"Research from 2008 said 60pc of over-50s were shown to stay until death!" the handbook states.

"I know that's really morbid but that's the way it works," an Amnesty staff member explained.

The handbook also deals with the delicate subject of how to develop a rapport with the public and generate a good sign-up rate.

Read more: 'Rule of thumb is: the older they are, the longer they stay' - training booklet

The handbook repeatedly highlights how Amnesty "insists on a culture of openness within the direct dialogue field.

"If you are upbeat and confident in what you are doing, then your body language will reflect this and that is what people will instantly see," the section titled 'Communication Skills' explains.

The handbook stipulates that chuggers must look groomed at all times and "not look hungover or smell of alcohol".

It stresses the importance of using 'ice-breakers' to get a person's attention on the street and advises slowly building rapport by introducing yourself as a paid fundraiser while showing your ID badge to create an atmosphere of confidence.

"Express sincere gratitude to the person for stopping while wearing a big smile on your face and maintaining good eye contact," it reads.

Once a rapport has been established, the handbook states that "a serious tone of voice" should be employed to "paint a picture for the donor".

"You must get the donor to understand the dire situation of the individuals you are representing," the booklet proclaims.

It suggests using "strong words and phrases like 'amazing', 'life-changing', 'fantastic' or 'making a real difference' to describe how great Amnesty's work is."

Our trainer advised us to "create a sense of urgency" at this point in the conversation with a potential donor.

Finally, the booklet deals with "the closing", or, in layman's terms, "the hard sell".

"This is where you have inspired the donor to feel passionate enough about Amnesty's work to inspire them to support the organisation.

"A typical close would be: 'Amnesty couldn't have achieved all of this great work without the donations of ordinary people from all around the world.

"'Do you want to help by giving €21 per month, by direct debit?'"

The mantra repeated again and again during training and at subsequent morning briefings was: "Ask for as much as they can give for as long as they can give."

Interesting psychological tips are detailed in the handbook to demonstrate how chuggers can build rapport with a member of the public on a busy street in a speedy fashion.

Time is of the essence as the handbook notes: "People judge you by what they see and feel in seven seconds."

"Positive body language, a smile, open and alert posture, good eye contact and a friendly greeting" are all noted by the handbook as key in successfully signing up a donor.

The importance of good manners and gratitude is repeatedly stressed throughout the text.

"Mirroring a person's body language can make them instantly relax," our trainer advised.

Tone of voice is cited as an area that chuggers should always be cognisant of.

"You must be aware of not just what you are saying but how you are saying it too. Be loud and clear with your message, but don't shout," the handbook says.

A specific section of the handbook entitled "Handling Objections" deals with this situation. "Re-inspire them and ask them to support at a lower level or on a different start date," it advises.

Interestingly, the handbook advises chuggers never to try to hug people.

"If they want to hug you after they've signed up: Fine!" it adds.

Irish Independent

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