RNA chaperones are proteins that aid in the folding of nucleic acids, but remarkably, many of these proteins are intrinsically disordered. How can these proteins function without a well-defined three-dimensional structure? Here, we address this question by studying the hepatitis C virus core protein, a chaperone that promotes viral genome dimerization. Using single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy, we find that this positively charged disordered protein facilitates the formation of compact nucleic acid conformations by acting as a flexible macromolecular counterion that locally screens repulsive electrostatic interactions with an efficiency equivalent to molar salt concentrations. The resulting compaction can bias unfolded nucleic acids towards folding, resulting in faster folding kinetics. This potentially widespread mechanism is supported by molecular simulations that rationalize the experimental findings by describing the chaperone as an unstructured polyelectrolyte.