Thursday, September 29, 2011

Chug Off

Back in the BDTSS (before Downtown Silver Spring) "Golden Age", when a desolate Ellsworth Drive was anchored by typhoid-spreading McDonald's, one could not walk a block without being repeatedly hustled by a gauntlet of panhandlers.

Over the past 15-20 years, the complexion of Ellsworth Drive has changed significantly, but one thing remains the same: you still can't get very far without being approached by strangers for money. Sure, the hustlers smell better and are more organized, but while they used to be content with a one-time donation of spare change, now they want recurring monthly payments on your credit card. Instead of a paper cup, they come armed with a clipboard or a tablet PC. I am, of course, referring to the packs of charity muggers (or "chuggers") who position themselves in strategic choke points along the sidewalks of Downtown Silver Spring, preventing passerbys from avoiding their hard-sell tactics. They will approach you with an innocent line such as "may I have a moment of your time?" or with a guilt-inducing request like "do you have a minute for the environment?".

While on the surface these fundraisers may seem to be representatives of a charity, in fact they often employees of a for-profit fundraising company. In most cases, only a portion of your donation will ultimately make it to the charity being promoted.

The chugger scourge appears to have hit the UK hard, where a number of municipalities have established laws restricting the activities of these fundraisers. Why can't we get the same thing here? MoCo regulates everything else to death, but these guys appear to operate with limited to no restrictions. Why must pedestrians be subjected to repeated requests for money each time they walk through Downtown Silver Spring? It's bad enough you get harassed one time, but once you make it to the other end of the block, you get hustled again by their co-workers. (And twice again if you walk back.)

Here's my question: if these are employees of a for-profit company, why can they operate with impunity on the public/private streets of Downtown Silver spring? If the county isn't going to do anything to curb them, what about DTSS? Are they OK with their customers getting hit up for money every time they step onto Ellsworth? What if I were to set up a lemonade stand outside of DSW and vow to donate half my revenue to a worthy cause, say, UNICEF? The DTSS Whiteshirts would be on me faster than if I were a breastfeeding photographer.

To be fair, I understand that charities can't always support an army of full-time fundraisers on their payrolls, and that what money they do net after hiring these fundraising companies will ultimately go to a worthy cause. Furthermore, I can't begrudge the chuggers themselves - they gotta eat, and in today's economy you do what you can. I'm sure they don't love approaching strangers for money all day. With that being said, what about our right to go to the farmers market on a Saturday morning without being made to feel bad for not helping to save the whales (or whatever)? Just give at the office.

Of course, you can always deal with these people like Aziz Ansari... (NSFW language)


Anonymous said...

A-freaking-men brother. They have become a scourge. I have basically taken to walking strategically behind people, waiting for them to get solicited, and then darting out to pass. Kind of like drafting in car racing.

Andrea said...

I second that and have been wondering if I’m the only one to notice them. I have begun to simply say "No, have a nice day" when they launch into their spiel. I've found that Mondays are also especially bad and the territory extends all the way to the Metro. You'd think that Peterson would have a solicitation policy in place and MoCo would follow their usual MO and be outraged!

Anonymous said...

Big deal - just ignore'em if you don't care about what they're pushing. It's not like your trapped. Besides, popular places attracts this kind of stuff so see it as a testament to the popularity of DTSS.

Perry said...

Anon 11:12 am-- I use the same strategy!

B said...

Please. The last thing we need in MoCo/Silver Spring is more unnecessary regulation. Just ignore them and quit whining about it.

Anonymous said...

When these people start talking to you, just ignore them and keep on walking. You don't have to give them any attention.

Anonymous said...

I assume it's within Peterson Co.'s right to enforce a no solicitation ban on Ellsworth. No need to get the county involved, unless people start staking out the metro area more often. Hate to punch minimum wage college students and grads while they're down, but seriously, it's out of control.

Anonymous said...

Between walkin downtown and having these guys show up on my front door during dinner - these folks are getting seriously old.

Are people donating? That's all I can think of for why they keep on showing up! ARGH

Sligo said...

They're like cockroaches. As long as a few people drop some crumbs, they'll keep coming.

Anonymous said...

Ignoring one is fine. Having to ignore literally 3 of them in rapid succession, literally every time you dare wish to venture to Ellsworth or the Metro is ridiculous.

And it is not just a matter of "ignoring" in any case, because if you say nothing, they keep talking and if you say "no thanks" or "not right now" or whatever, they go onto the next line in their script to try to get you to engage. Transcript of actual conversation with some blond actionaid floozy:

Volunteer: Hi! Can I have a minute of your time?

Me: Sorry, not today. [at which point the conversation should have ended]

Volunteer: Well, if I can just ask, if you could do oooooone thing to change the world what would it be? [at which point I am not annoyed]

Me: Ban solicitations in public places.

To be fair, that ended the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Ooops, at which point I AM annoyed. But you got the point, I'm sure

Anonymous said...

So glad someone mentioned this. I have no problem ignoring one person but as soon as you get by them there are a few more you have to escape! I work in downtown DC I've never seen anything like it, at least not on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

much needed post, thanks! i walk home from work by East West/Colesville up to 2nd and Colesville and pass the metro every day, it's out of control. One day one of them said to me "Excuse me, how do you feel about kids and cancer?" I have my iPod on, they should know that means I'm going to ignore them. And you are right, you get hit with one on one side of the metro and then two on the other side, enough already!


Anonymous said...

Ugh, these people drive me crazy. One Saturday I was solicited by no less than 10 people from three charities.

By the time I got to the tenth, I was definitely snappy, and the solicitor went, "Wow, someone's grumpy today." Maybe if nine of his co-horts hadn't bothered me all the way down Ellsworth, I would have been nicer.

Molly said...

Well said! I find myself darting onto the street for avoidance, even when it's open to cars...

Mike said...

I admit I don't understand Peterson's policy. I went downtown a while back with our dogs, one of whom was wearing a donation vest for our breed rescue group. I never stopped anyone, never asked a soul for money, just had the vest do the talking.

There was something going on that day, a festival of some kind. I got stopped by the DTSS marketing person (post-Jen Nettles) and she asked me not to have the dogs with the vest because "the vendors get upset." Afraid they'd lose some cash, I guess.

So how do these annoying alleged do-gooders get away with a far more aggressive approach?

Anonymous said...

Today, when I told one of these folks that I was in a hurry (and was walking quickly), she said, "OK, I'll walk with you." She did give up after half a block once it became evident that I would not slow down.

I was thinking that from now on, I'm going to whip out my cell phone and start having fake conversations.

Anonymous said...

How is it that after years of almost daily walks through the area I've only once been approached by someone? Even then I gave them eye contact because I was interested in what they were doing. Could it be that people are exaggerating the problem? I mean 10 solicitors approached one person? I find that hard to believe.

No, I don't want them there. But, at the same time I think people are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Cahrities aren't going to put people there if they don't get contributions. And if there are too many charities in one spot they will all fall short.

Isayaah Parker said...

No one is exaggerating! I have also had first hand experience with these locusts! The only positive was that one guy was REALLY HOT! (I'm a gay male) My naive self thought he was trying to hit on me at first and I got all rosey in my cheeks then I saw a clipboard and he started talking about the environment and FOLLOWED ME all the way down ellsworth from the Theater to Copper Canyon Restaurant! Then when I crossed the street, a young woman barreled toward me, clipboard in hand asking me if I care about kids with cancer and tried to show me some photo of a dying baby. Then I ran away from her only to find a group of them, plotting on their next victim no doubt, standing in front of Panera Bread, parking lot side. THIS IS OUT OF CONTROL! To the woman who had the dog with the rescue vest on, I feel for you. That is completely UNFAIR! These people must have more respect for pedestrians. Why not set up a table some where? At least then they'd be stationary and not on the loose.

Anonymous said...

Not an exaggeration!! Between my office and Ellsworth: 1 "set" on each side of metro entrance, 1 set at corner of Wayne and Colesville. That's 6 chuggers before I even get to Ellsworth. At Ellsworth, I walk directly down the center of the road, risking my life to avoid them. Granted, being a young professional female I probably fit their profile (and stop flirting w/ me to get me to give you money!)I get a 30 minute lunch, I don't have time to stop and chit-chat. If I want to give, I'll come to you. In the meantime I'll keep practicing my "bitch face".

Terry in Silver Spring said...

I used to feel bad when I first encountered these folks, especially when it was a charity whose mission I support. The chuggers have broken my "niceness" though. Now, as they take a step toward me, I look them straight in the eye, put up a hand, and say "No". Nothing more. That seems to do the trick.

Someone has to be giving them money, else we wouldn't be so plagued with them.

Anonymous said...

Teehee, I rather enjoy them for brief moments of levity. If they ask me if I have time for the environment, I tell them "Fuck no, I hate dolphins." If they ask me anything else, I tell them I only donate to charities for dolphins.

Anonymous said...

"So glad someone mentioned this. I have no problem ignoring one person but as soon as you get by them there are a few more you have to escape! I work in downtown DC I've never seen anything like it, at least not on a daily basis.

Thursday, September 29, 2011 3:58:00 PM"

They are all over Dupont Circle especially near the P Street entrance.

Anonymous said...

I think most of these solicitors are at least tolerated, if not embraced, by the community because they reflect our common, politically progressive viewpoint. Most seem to be seeking funds for environmental causes, anti-war efforts, etc. On the other hand, if we suffered a sudden invasion of Christians, military recruiters or Tea Party types, the mood would be different. You'd see some definite calls for regulation -- at least of those whose causes are offensive to the vast majority of Springers.

Sligo said...

The armed forces already have a recruiting office in DTSS, even though it is somewhat hidden away up on the second level.

Clancy said...

I haven't really found these people to be too aggressive, but the large numbers and apparent omnipresence is somewhat disconcerting. Sure, it's annoying to tell 5-10 people in the span of a few blocks that you can't/won't help them, but when you have to do it everyday for a month straight it's more than a little aggravating. At first, I was generally pleasant to them. However, I no longer feel bad for simply ignoring them.

It probably is an indication of the relative affluence of the area. So, I guess that's looking at the bright side. . .

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is definitely a 1st world problem, but still super annoying. It is great to take a step back and realize that people here bitch about the Fillmore not having the acts they want, that there's a random crime every 6-12 months, and that groups solicit us for money. Oh, and there's the troll who complains that Silver Springers aren't hot enough. 1st world problems for real.

Rebecca said...

Thanks for this post - I was starting to think I was the only one seriously annoyed by these people. They're everywhere - on Ellsworth, outside the Silver Spring Metro, and even sometimes outside the Metro station by my office. I've taken to making sure I'm either talking on the phone or have my headphones in when I walk by. This usually keeps them from bothering me, and if not, I just pretend like I didn't hear them. I completely understand the need for these charities to raise money, but I'm really uncomfortable with giving my credit card info to a stranger on the street, and the in-your-face tactics are a huge turn-off.

Springvale Roader said...

The aggressive chuggers annoy me too, but walking past them while saying "No thanks" always works.

It's a shame, because they ruin things for the groups who occasionally send out people to fundraise.

I wonder if the fact that there are no jobs for young people accounts for the proliferation of chuggers. It's a job, after all, albiet a crummy one.

Anonymous said...

next time I go to DTSS I should wear a button:

"Mobile non-solitication zone"

monkey said...

Lol...and you'd be that guy that wears the "mobile Non-solicitation Zone" button.

Gary said...

Funny video. Reminds me of the time (true story!) my in-a-hurry and somewhat stressed-out wife responded to one of the chuggers with "if I have to talk to you, I WILL STAB YOU." Psychotic breaks can be useful sometimes.

perrik said...

"If I have to talk to you, I WILL STAB YOU."

Definitely psychotic. I'm going to use that at the next opportunity.

I haven't been on Ellsworth when the chuggers were in full force, but I had a meeting last week in an building by the Ballston Metro. Good gravy, it was a swarm. I can't remember what the intro pitch was - something like "do you care about children being safe?"

Granted, I'm annoyed at any charity solicitors who block my path, including the ones who set up at supermarket entrances. (Burtonsville Giant was infested with *two* such groups today, spiffy) But there's a difference between asking people to drop a buck into the Knights of Columbus box and asking them to authorize a recurring charge on their credit cards. No. Freaking. Way.

Anonymous said...

I've only briefly glanced through these comments, but there don't seem to be any contributions from someone with experience in this line of work. I was such a person, albeit briefly.

First: yes, I understand that canvassers can be annoying, sometimes extaordinarily so. However, having to deal with speech that one finds annoying is the price that must be paid for living in a (relatively) free society. Well worth it, IMO.

Moreover, realize that many -- probably most -- canvassers really don't want to be soliciting you any more than you want to be solicited. By and large, they're young people simply doing what they can to get by in a job market that is horrible. They are not "cockroaches". Try to have some human sympathy.

This doesn't mean that I like canvassing or think it's a perfectly defensible venture. I think that contracting out to these firms shows very poor judgment on the part of Greenpeace, Children International, etc. And that's kind of the point: people should be letting these organizations know that this is not appreciated. *That's* aiming at the right target.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

Reply to the Anonymous person who has worked as a chugger:

It would be helpful if they were better organized and I didn't get stopped by three people working for the same charity just passing the front of a single store. That's just plain annoying. I give a substantial amount each year to charities. I'm not going to give when I'm made to feel uncomfortable or annoyed. Additionally, I'm leery of giving to someone on a sidewalk with a clipboard. Who knows if they're really with that charity. It makes more sense to send the charity a check directly or donate via the organizations web page or CFC. I feel safer giving money to a homeless person on a corner in the hopes they're going to buy food with it, than in giving money to a random person with a clipboard.

Anonymous said...

Terry, I agree completely. But again: not their fault, but the fault of management, of the canvassing firms, and of the groups that contract with them.

A good book on the way the industry operates is Activism, Inc. by Dana Fisher.

Anonymous said...

Also: one thing that you learn quickly, either by working in the industry or reading about it, is that virtually every aspect of daily operations is hyper-centralized and standardized.

When they ask you for donations, they are literally following a script that was written for them -- not only the words, but also the body language, etc.

Terry in Silver Spring said...

"When they ask you for donations, they are literally following a script that was written for them -- not only the words, but also the body language, etc."

I've done some phone bank work for charities, but was lucky enough to be calling people who were already donors or otherwise involved with the charity. We had exact scripts to follow, but also had ways to take the people off the call list.

I wish the chuggers would just notice that when a person has walked by several other chuggers that that person has probably already been asked.

Anonymous said...


As one poster noted already, many of these canvassers are young people who NEED a paycheck to live day-to-day. The rent, grocery bills, cell-phone bills and student loan payments are a big burden. These people cannot find solid full-time employment so they have to do this shitty street work. Since this country is in the worst economic shape since the Great Depression of the 1930s, you are going to see more of these canvassers on the streets.

I think most of these 20-somethings hate begging for charity money on the street. Most people are uncomfortable asking strangers for donations. Anyone posting messages on this blog have a burning passion for soliciting on behalf of charities? Anyone? Anyone? Yeah, I didn't think so.

But these young people need a paycheck today while they continue to search for a more fulfilling, higher paying job.

Damn, people in Silver Spring have no empathy, no understanding of why people do the things they do. It's all about the inconvenience caused to you because someone is asking for donations on the street. Well, Boo-Freaking-Hoo.

If you have issues with the canvassers, send an email or make a call to their employer with your complaint. Otherwise, STFU and go about your day.


Anonymous said...

Dear IHateYuppies,

Bite Me.



Seriously, since when is it my fault these kids decided to pursue an education in women's studies or communications or some other useless field rather than say...math or science and thus are basically unemployable?

And even so, there are a ton of shitty jobs that don't involve annoying the hell out of people. Do you see anyone here complaining about the folks putting together your Subway sandwich or bagging your groceries?

Anonymous said...

I am loving these comments. I feel the same frustration as others have expressed and at times would be happy to answer with a swift shoulder check.

I hate to say it but this is another reason I try to avoid DTSS now. It is a suburban nightmare. A mini Rockville.

This may not be a "chugger" moment but I find it rather obnoxious to have someone shouting that Jesus Christ is the lord and savior as I am waiting for the crosswalk. Regardless of my faith, the man is shouting among a small cluster of people waiting to cross and there's no where else to go!

Anonymous said...

I remember when I was in college about 10 years ago, the organization that seemed to advertise everywhere for these jobs was called Public Interest Research Groups. Not sure if it's still the same outfit that does it now. I'm guessing the reason that people take these jobs, over Subway or the grocery store, even though they probably pay about the same, is that they perceive the chugger job to have greater resume value (using appropriate puffery to make the job sound better than it is). And of course students want to avoid the dreaded resume gap.

But I think sometimes it's better to avoid taking a crappy job, live with your parents for a period of time (hopefully rent free in exchange for chores, etc.), and spend some time networking and trying to find work that really interests you. I don't think anyone will hold it against you if you have a resume gap right after college, and taking one of these chugger jobs does detract from finding more meaningful work (networking and job-searching, when done properly -- and I'm not talking about massive resume dumps that just don't work -- take substantial time). I know the job market sucks, but I think this approach does work (at least it did for me many years ago!).

Rebecca said...

I think many here have made good points, especially those who have said not to antagonize the chuggers but rather their employers and the charities that rent them out. According to an article from a UK newspaper, for the average monthly donation to a chugger, you'd have to continue donating for 10 months before the charity in question breaks even from their "investment" in the chugger. Most often the charity pays the for-profit company up front for as many chuggers as they'd like, so that the chuggers can claim that all of the money you give them "goes straight to the charity." So, as others have said, just donate directly to the charity - no sense in giving some for-profit company your hard-earned money that could have been used to save the whales, or something.

Anonymous said...

what a bunch of wining cry babies!!! it is astonishing that these many of you get together and cry about being stopped on the street for a second. the irony of all this is that you babies cry about not having time but you take the time out to blog about this crap. I say stop acting self important and busy you lifeless lunatics!!! Sad that ya'll can sympathize about being stopped on the street but not about hunger. I say some charity should be started for u people to be sent to sensitivity training or just flat out a check out for your sanity!!

Anonymous said...

Oh Christ almighty. Please pull your ass out of whatever "Occupy [insert city name here]" hole you have it in for just a sec while I school you.

First off, this has nothing to do with being for or against hunger. Passing off something as asinine and trite as that as an argument is no better than the chuggers who spout off nonsense about "having a minute to save children" or tea pertiers that "want goobermint's hands off their medicare." It is, in fact about the proper boundaries of behavior in civil society and the intersection of free speech and the right to privacy. But I suspect you have no deeper meaning of what those terms mean or imply than the Platte River is deep.

Second, in case you missed it in the X-induced haze that you pass off as intellectualism, it has been pointed out that these chugger groups are the absolute antitheses to addressing social problems. At best they pass on a mere fraction of their collections to the actual charity while encouraging the belief that you just gave $100 bucks to save the whales. Umm, no. You just gave $20 to save the whales and another $80 to shareholders. At worst, their overly aggressive tactics turn people off from the charity altogether, denying worthy causes of otherwise willing donors.

In are an idiot. Also, you should learn what the Shift key does.


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