Concern chief defends chuggers as charity enjoys record-breaking year

"The job they do is a tough one and the money they raise is essential"

The chief executive of Concern Ireland has defended the role "chuggers" play in raising funds for charity.

Dominic MacSorley told The Pat Kenny Show this morning: 

"The job they do is a tough one and the money they raise is essential."

The Belfast man's comments come as Ireland's largest aid and humanitarian agency announced that it raised a record €183 million in 2016 and helped an unprecedented number of people.

Its annual income was up from €182.2m in 2015, despite what MacSorley called a "difficult" year for fundraising.

Concern received a total of €147m from governments and co-funders including the Irish Government, which donated €24.2m in Irish Aid.

The rest was made up of public donations, with MacSorley making the case that having Concern workers on the street to approach people was vital in raising that money.

Dominic MacSorley (centre), chief executive of Concern Worldwide

Responding to Newstalk listeners' criticisms of allegedly confrontational approaches where people felt their space was invaded or their way blocked, MacSorley said:

"I have been on the streets and have been approached by chuggers myself... They're very professionally trained. They know what they're doing."

"I would hate to think they're using commando-style tactics to intimidate people," he continued. "Trust me, the level of training and reporting... Every time I go out and am approached by them, I am testing as to how is their behaviour.

"Are they polite, are they respectful, are they giving people time? Those are the things that we are focusing on."

Asked whether they were "financially incentivised", he said:

"Yes, but... they get very, very basic salary and they work with us for two or three years. And it's providing a level of employment.

"We also have 2,500 people across the country that are doing supporting fundraising events for us.

"We just had our annual general meeting, we were honouring the people who opened up shops and who were raising money for Concern. So that isn't our only source of income.

"As an organisation that's trusted, valued and respected in a sector that has been bashed around, people simply need to go [online] and will see exactly where our money is going and can ask any questions.

"We have put a lot of emphasis on that."

Ireland contributed €51m to Concern Worldwide in 2016, representing over a quarter of its total income. Concern says that the money has gone towards helping 22.6 million people in 27 of the world’s poorest countries. It responded to 45 global emergencies in 25 countries, helping over 4.6 million people in the process.

Returning to the topic of chuggers and the complaints put to him on the programme, MacSorley concluded that:

"They're paid the minimum wage and it's a tough job. Certainly, I'll take those comments back and I will be sitting down to make sure that we're eliminating whatever behaviours that your listeners have raised. Because we don't want that to happen."

In Concern's annual report, MacSorley stressed:

"As an organisation, we understand the crucial importance of maintaining the highest standards of accountability and transparency as we deliver our programmes across some of the world’s poorest countries."

For his part, MacSorley has worked with the charity for 35 of its 49 years in existence and was paid a salary of €99,740 last year. 

You can peruse Concern's annual report for yourself here.