Charity Collection: Why I Resist the Call to Give to Street Collectors

How, where and when to be charitable in a world full of charities wanting your hard-earned is a tricky thing to navigate

Charity collection tin
Howard Lake, Flickr

I’ve been wanting to write on charity collection for some time, but it was watching the brilliant Ricky Gervais comedy Afterlife on Netflix a few nights ago (yes, I’m late to the party, I know) that I finally realised it was OK to out myself as the guy who avoids charity collectors on the street.

For those who haven’t seen it, here is the hilarious scene I’m talking about…

Now, I don’t reckon Ricky G (or myself for that matter) are trying to say all charity collectors who approach you on the street are dodgy knobheads (like the guy in Afterlife) doing it for a buck. In fact, I would hazard a guess that a sizeable proportion of those collecting does believe in the charity they are representing and are genuinely trying to help a good cause…

But…the fact remains many are also being paid to collect. It’s a job, paid an hourly rate and I have a sad and sneaking suspicion that some are employed by organisations who offer incentives in the same way salespeople are to achieve their KPIs — Huffpost even reported on this in 2017, stating that collectors can get up to 17 times the commission with employees facing the sack if they don’t meet targets.

I see them every day…sometimes several different flavours of them…at my local train station. They gather early, get a rev-up from a team leader, then loiter, jumping on anyone who makes eye contact with them. Some of their ways of doing this, while not of the cynical black-humour variety as in the excerpt from Afterlife above, are just as irritating.

“Hey there, smile, it’s for free you know,” accompanied by a big flashy ‘I am your new BAE’ smile.

“Enjoying that music you’re listening to, you’re grooving along there,” with apparently appropriate fist-pumping or hip rotating dance moves.

“Love that cap, where did you get it, so unique, looking good my man,” in a nod to the $8 cap you bought at HnM that is not so unique and which does not make you feel like the charity dude’s “man”.

The list could go on — we all have similar stories.

(I’ll let you in on my trick to avoid these pesky people — I put my phone to my ear and use my best acting skills to have an imaginary conversation with “XYZ” about “ABC” while offering the collector and mild smile as you sweep past them, which gets you off the hook and at least doesn’t let them think you’re a complete prick.)

Woman talking on phone
Brian Evans, Flickr

Because…I’m not. I give to two charities every month and every time there is some kind of mad disaster somewhere, I’m straight onto sending through some cash to help disaster relief and recovery efforts even though I earn WELL BELOW the average wage (ah the life of the writer).

No, it’s not that I don’t believe in charities. Or in being kind. Or of offering financial compassion to my fellow human in need.

HOWEVER…I object to street collection. I also never give to the homeless or anyone asking for money on the street. I’ve discussed this with different people in the sector and several social worker mates and most agree, at least in terms of the homeless, it’s not overly helpful handing over dosh because often it keeps people on the street BUT of course everyone needs to do what fits their own value system and comfort zone.

And we all know why…study after study has found that the rich are less altruistic than the poor.

What makes me particularly pissed about street collectors in my area is that I live in a low socio-economic inner-city suburb, populated heavily with students, fairly recent migrants and just generally a demographic that probably doesn’t overly have much to give.

And we all know why…study after study has found that the rich are less altruistic than the poor.

I know right…how bad is that?

Again, not to generalise. When you hear of billionaires like Andrew Twiggy Forrest donating AUD$70m towards bushfire assistance in Australia and similar wealthy scions following suit, it’s clear that ultimately generous people give no matter what their pay-packet is.

This sticks in my craw in the worst way. That many reputable (and not-so) charities target the less well-off knowing they are more likely to offer what little they have is rotten.

I’m not trying to argue for anyone, rich or poor, not to be charitable. Quite the opposite — we would be a much better off society if everyone donated even just a few bucks a year. Micro-donating is a thing, and some even see it as the future of fundraising.

There are also broader benefits of more people reaching into their pockets even for small amounts of cash— the sense of community this helps foster, the feeling of connection to those who need help, the mental health aspect of thining outside of oneself and one’s own problems to acknowledge others who are way worse of than we are…which is all alongside the ACTUAL help it brings to those who really are less fortunate than each of us for whatever reason.

But tactical charity collection moves is not the way to do this. It has turned charity collection into a business, and while those who use it as a fundraising method no doubt will wave all kinds of figures and stats at me to show how much they take in from it to prove that it’s viable, that doesn’t make it right.


sign saying make this world better




Writer, editor, content dude, digital disruptor. Politics. Arts. Tech. Travel. Food. Film. The Force. Digital Nomad. Citizen of the universe. Coffee. Always.

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Young Apprentice AKA PB

Young Apprentice AKA PB

Writer, editor, content dude, digital disruptor. Politics. Arts. Tech. Travel. Food. Film. The Force. Digital Nomad. Citizen of the universe. Coffee. Always.

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