Andrew Walmsley on Digital: There's no escaping online chuggers

I used to work in the heart of adland, and it was a constant challenge to walk down Carnaby Street without being accosted by a camera crew gathering vox pops. People who worked around there developed natural defence mechanisms to avoid their clutches - staring at the ground, trying to look really late - leaving it to the Nordic backpackers to get nobbled. Just a few days' experience was all it took, and you could breeze past them with an 'I'm incredibly important/late/psychotic' look - the body language equivalent of 'shields to maximum'.

Now I work in Victoria, home to the chugger. These guys are much tougher. Trained in clipboard-concealment techniques and come-hither smiling, they are the ninjas of the street hustle and take no prisoners with their cheery greetings.

Not content with being assaulted by these breezy budget Lord Levys, we are starting to adopt their techniques for ourselves.

Hardly a day goes by without some colleague, friend or acquaintance threatening to climb Kilimanjaro, run somewhere or give something up in the name of charidee. In times past they would have to flog around the office begging for signatures, abasing themselves in front of potential sponsors and generally nicing up to everyone. And after subjecting themselves to whatever trial they had selected, they would have to repeat the process when chasing up reluctant donors to dust off their wallets.

All of which meant that your generosity of spirit was rarely exercised by these approaches. But that has changed with the application of digital technology.

For some time now, email has enabled sponsorship nets to be cast much more widely. One email to the whole department, or even company, and it is possible to hit your sponsorship target. Dozens or even hundreds now know both how fit and how benevolent you are, and signups are easy.

But getting them to pay was still a problem, and managing the logistics of acquiring, collecting and chasing sponsors was a burden that was, as one marathon runner I know put it, 'almost as much arseache as the run itself'.

Websites such as Justgiving.com provide the infrastructure to deal with these logistics. All the user has to do is follow the easy steps to register their event and designate their charity, and the site does the rest of the work for them. The site handles credit-card transactions, reclaims the tax on donations and even sends out a thank-you note, leaving the contestant to focus on treating their blisters.

The consequence has been a further surge in sponsorship requests. I am now receiving about one a day (amazingly, just as I typed that, another came in, so make that two).

And it has not stopped there. The dizzying growth of Facebook over the past few months has further stoked the fire, adding another channel through which we can be mugged for charity. Now we are approached not just by Tracy in finance, but by our friends as well. Frugging (I just made this term up), the practice of charity-mugging your friends through social networks, is set to be the next wave to sweep Facebook, and it will only get worse once someone writes an application for the site to integrate donation into your network.

The tactic we have all adopted, of ignoring mass sponsorship emails in the hope that their volume grants us anonymity, is going to be crushed without mercy, and our parsimony exposed to the rest of the online world as all can see our profile.

Ultimately, the only comfort is that the people it is going to hit hardest are those who maintain multiple online personalities. In order to maintain face with their various communities, they may be forced to give many times over. Perhaps someone will launch a charity for them.

In the meantime, I'm going to start smiling at chuggers. I realise this might confuse them, but at least they are less persistent than my friends.

Andrew Walmsley is co-founder of i-level

30 SECONDS ON... www.justgiving.com

- The UK's leading charity fundraising website, Justgiving was launched in 2001. Since then, more than 300,000 pages have been created, raising more than £150m for charities.

- Justgiving is a for-profit company with 34 London staff that was founded by chief executive Zarine Kharas. It deducts 5% from each donation as a fee.

- Users create a page to collect donations in support of any sponsored event or appeal, some more traditional than others. Earlier this year a man in the outdoor sector raised more than £8000 for domestic-violence charity Refuge by promising to cut off the industry's 'last remnant of the 80s' - his ponytail.

- Another man is seeking sponsorship for doing 'sweet FA' - he is promising not to do anything worthwhile for a year, since he never seems to get around to participating in events such as parachute jumps or a three-legged race up a mountain. He is aiming to raise £1000 for the Portsmouth Hospitals Charitable Fund.

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