Chatting for charity: NGO representatives in the streets of Dublin

Trinity News talks to the young people standing on the streets of Dublin, engaging with the public as representatives of various charities.

“Hi, do you have a moment to stop and chat?” Do these words bring up memories of walking into the Arts Block or Front Square, trying to awkwardly but politely avoid the gaze of a bright jacket wearing, smiling NGO representative? It feels near impossible to walk around town without such an encounter. But what is it like to be on the other end? What do these representatives experience as they spend hours on the street attempting to convince passersby to stop? Trinity News chatted with a few representatives mid-shift about the daily trials and tribulations they face on the streets. 

On their first day of work, two young women, Amy* and Olivia*, agreed to sit down with Trinity News during their lunch break. To start, they were asked what their job is like: how does it feel to be overlooked by so many people, and shot down so many times? The women said they didn’t let it get to them — just focused on the next person coming their way. They estimated that one in ten people stop to speak to them. When asked if they had any strategies to convince people to stop, Olivia said that she likes to get to the point by mentioning the cause she is advocating for as people approach her — it saves a few seconds and it seems to engage people. The women stressed that more often than not, the people who speak to them care about the issue at hand and are eager to learn about the charity’s work on the issue. After a brief explanation of the group’s mission, almost all of them are happy to sign the petition. 

The pair said privacy concerns are the main excuse people give for not wanting to sign petitions. Even if people don’t agree to sign up, the pair still counts engaging them in conversation as a win. 

Not only do they feel they are paid well for what they do, but more importantly they agree that the work they are doing is rewarding”

When asked how they felt about their job, a position many would hate — and on that particular day in pouring rain no less — Amy described an encounter with one woman who angrily told her “God bless you” as she passed; both said that multiple people had laughed them down. But these unpleasant encounters are worth it for them. Not only do they feel they are paid well for what they do, but more importantly they agree that the work they are doing is rewarding. Olivia pointed out that if she wasn’t doing this, she would still be working another job — at least this way she gets to stand up for what she believes in and feel like she’s making the world a better place.

More experienced workers also seem to share this positive outlook on the job. Allan*, a team leader of a group of representatives with a charity that provides global aid to people in poverty, has been working as a street representative for seven years. He hadn’t sought the role out initially, but by chance was offered the position at a charity which he already donated to. Having the opportunity to do more for a cause he supported seemed ideal. He said that he had never planned to do the job long term and that his team members generally stay for a year or two on average: “It takes a certain kind of person to do it long term because you are putting up with a lot of rejection.” 

When asked what it takes to do the job, he responded: “I don’t think [there are] any exact skills you have to have. I’ve seen the most introverted people come in and be successful at it,” he continued: “Being able to talk — anyone can do it if they put in the effort and they try… it’s a great experience.” 

Allan, like Amy and Olivia, didn’t focus on the rejections or the awkwardness he sometimes encounters. His most notable experience from the job happened to him in his first year doing it. He said that he spoke to a lady “from one of the countries we worked in [who] was helped by us, and then moved here years later.” She told him how she had “met her husband, had a kid” and had donated some money to the charity. “She lit a fire in me,” he said. 

According to the 2023 Global Giving Index, 60 percent of Irish adults gave money to a charity in the previous year. This places Ireland in 17th position on the world index. With such a generous population, some 11,000 charities operating across the country and many highly motivated people like the ones Trinity News spoke with, it seems unlikely that these representatives are going anywhere any time soon. 

*Names changed to protect privacy.