The new generation of fundraising websites

The number and originality of online fundraising sites has grown rapidly in recent years. Sophie Hudson looks at two new sites that have won government funding and asks what the prospects are for digital giving

The Guess2Give website
The Guess2Give website

Digital fundraising barely existed a decade ago. Since then, more than £1bn has been raised through online fundraising sites such as JustGiving and Virgin Money Giving.

The success of such sites has led to a steady stream of other innovative ways to give to charities online. Rachel Beer, founding partner of Beautiful World, an agency that specialises in fundraising, marketing and communications for charities, says the number of online giving methods has "expanded dramatically".

"We have gone from JustGiving being the only giving platform to myriad products and services, and the growth is still continuing," she says.

Guess2Give is one of these new platforms. This site, which was launched in April, invites supporters to pay to make predictions about challenge events, such as how long it will take someone to complete a marathon. The person with the guess that is closest to the eventual outcome wins a cash prize.

It costs £3 to make a guess, with 50p going to a winner's prize fund. Up to £2.50, including Gift Aid, goes to the fundraiser's nominated charity - the amount varies according to how many guesses a person makes. The remaining money goes to Guess2Give.

Mark Chandler, director and co-founder of Guess2Give, came up with the idea for the website while working at Marie Curie Cancer Care as head of marketing and digital. "I found it was hard to get sponsorship for doing challenge events," he says. "People often say they are getting so many sponsorship asks these days that they are becoming more selective about which ones they decide to donate to."

Chandler thinks the site will appeal because the ask is small and people will feel engaged because of the competition element that's involved. This element of fun could also encourage people outside someone's normal network of friends and colleagues to make guesses, he says, so that fundraisers don't always have to rely on the same people for support.

So far, 77 charities have signed up to use the site and £7,000 has been raised for charity. The site has been awarded £50,000 from the Office for Civil Society's Innovation in Giving Fund to help improve the functionality of the website.

DoNationBut not all new charitable giving websites raise money. For example, another recently launched website, DoNation, asks people to support friends or colleagues taking part in challenge events by pledging to do environmentally friendly "DoActions" for two months.

Actions are chosen from a list and include cycling to work and air-drying clothes. The site then calculates the amount of carbon dioxide that is not released into the atmosphere as a result.

Hermione Taylor, founding director of DoNation, came up with the idea a few years ago when she found she felt uncomfortable asking her friends to sponsor her financially to cycle from London to Morocco. "I wanted to raise money for an environment charity and thought it might then use that money to run a campaign to get people to change their behaviour," she says. "I decided, however, to try to change people's behaviour myself."

After finding her friends were happy to pledge actions as a way of supporting her, Taylor decided to set up DoNation. The site was launched in May 2011, and so far 189 sponsorship pages have been set up, generating pledges from 1,500 people. Taylor estimates that more than 196,000kg of carbon dioxide have been pledged. In April, it too received almost £50,000 from the government's Innovation in Giving Fund to help it develop the website.

Helen Goulden, director of the Public Services Lab at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, which is administering the fund on behalf of the government, says it gets a lot of applications from online giving platforms, but not every innovation will necessarily engage people. "Many of us stay away in droves from innovations that have been driven by technology rather than need," she says.

Beer agrees that the launch of new platforms will not necessarily guarantee increased philanthropy. "I don't think the answer to increasing online giving lies simply in the development of more new platforms," she says.

Most people donate to charity because they are asked to, she says, so charities need to become better at asking online. "Until this changes significantly, I don't think the number of online donations will rise dramatically, regardless of how many ways to give there are," she says.

Two potentially sensitive issues for organisations that raise money for charity are profit and staff salaries. JustGiving has been criticised in the past for taking a 5 per cent fee for donations made through the site and for paying its directors substantial salaries.

Anne-Marie Huby, managing director of JustGiving, says that in the past decade all profits have been reinvested in providing the best technology: "In the past year alone, we've relaunched our fundraising pages and added new features and tools." To continue to do this, she says, the site needs to invest in a talented team.

But Beer believes that profits and salaries will come under increasing public scrutiny. "The ease of searching the internet for information and the ability to compare the practices of organisations has increased the appetite for transparency, and it is required much more now of charities and the companies that support them," she says.

- See the top 10 funding application errors

- Read our interview with nfpSynergy's Joe Saxton

- Find out about the growing volatility of the legacy market

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