Interview: Tim Odell

The Giveall2charity founder says an automated payroll giving service cuts delays and adds 'portability'

Tim Odell
Tim Odell

One of the government's priorities in its drive to raise the level of charitable giving in the UK is improving the slow, paper-based, inflexible system of payroll giving, described by one sector observer as "the British Leyland of fundraising".

But even before the consultation by the Office for Civil Society closes next month, Tim Odell, a 56-year-old chartered accountant from South Africa, has launched a new version of payroll giving that, he claims, solves most of the problems.

"We quickly realised the main problem is that the old system lacks a banking platform - so we built one to go with it," says Odell. "This helps to automate the whole process, which makes it easier for people to use and easier for the charity to get the money."

He got encouragement from HM Revenue & Customs, he says, and after 18 months customising and testing a system bought "for a considerable sum" from Barclays, he launched Giveall2charity - itself a charity - in February. Several companies have already signed up, including a publicly listed company with several UK offices and a major law firm with 120 staff.

Time warp

Payroll giving has grown steadily since it started 26 years ago; 750,000 employees used it to give £118m to charity last year. One of its advantages is that it tends to be used by middle-class, middle-aged male professionals, traditionally a difficult group for fundraisers to reach.

But the system is widely perceived as being stuck in a time warp and failing to reach its potential. Complaints usually involve the time it takes to process donations, the administration fees paid to the payroll-giving agency, and the lack of portability: when an employee leaves a company, the continuity of donations is lost unless their new employer also offers payroll giving.

Odell, who trained with Ernst & Young and has previously developed cash-management systems for big corporations and the Methodist church in South Africa, acknowledges the work of existing payroll-giving agencies but feels they are outdated.

"We must give them credit," he says. "They have achieved an incredible amount using paper systems that haven't changed a lot in the intervening time."

But his first step was to ditch paper forms and adopt an online banking platform similar to those used by most high-street banks. He says it takes a company 10 minutes to register its unique HMRC number with the Giveall2charity system, free of charge.

Payroll cycle

This creates a profile that employees can use to register, pick one of 160,000 charities from the Charity Commission database and decide how much to give. They can also set up accounts where donations build up until they decide which charity to give it to. Then, on a specified day in the payroll cycle - weekly, monthly or quarterly - the employer transfers all money pledged by its employees to the Giveall2charity system, which immediately sends it to the relevant charities' bank accounts.

"We can allocate the money directly to the charity on the same working day, if it comes in before 3pm," says Odell. "This has never been done before and it allows charities to start earning interest on the donations immediately."

Odell's solution to the portability problem is to allow employees to designate multiple employers after they have registered, which means that if they work for more than one company or if they change employer, the system carries on giving to the designated charity.

Most payroll-giving agencies charge charities to administer the receipt and payment of donations, but Odell thinks it unfair to charge the 60,000 or so charities that have incomes of less than £10,000 a year, so their subscription is free. All charities that benefit from the system are asked to subscribe to the platform and those with incomes of more than £10,000 a year are asked to pay £24 a month, which, in effect, subsidises the smaller organisations.

Charities registered with Giveall2charity are not charged a commission, but those that do not wish to register might have a discretionary charge of 2 per cent added to any donation.

Odell says there is no longer any excuse for companies not to take advantage of a free system to allow its employees to donate to charity.

"We will tell the government's consultation that it should be compulsory for companies to offer payroll giving where even a single employee asks for it," he says. "It costs the company nothing and it takes 10 minutes to set up, so I don't think there should a threshold at which it should be compulsory."

CV:

2010: Director, SA Charity Golf Day
2010: Trustee and director, Katerva
2010: Chairman, South African UK Chamber of Commerce
2009: Founder and chief executive, Giveall2charity
2008: Founding member and chairman, South African Institute of Chartered
Accountants - UK
2007: Trustee, founder and chairman, Nede Education Fund
2001: Director, Odell & Associates

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