Charities criticise repeated problems with Big Give online giving scheme

Andrew Scadding of Thai Children's Trust says website failed to cope with demand and match funding ran out in minutes

Andrew Scadding of Thai Children's Trust
Andrew Scadding of Thai Children's Trust

Charities have complained about their experience of the Big Give Christmas Challenge this year, with some fearing it has put donors off giving.

The Big Give Christmas Challenge, an online match-funding scheme that aims to raise £10m for more than 400 charities this week, was temporarily suspended on Monday after its website was unable to cope with demand. The amount of match funding available also ran out within minutes of the site opening each day.

Andrew Scadding, chief executive of the Thai Children’s Trust, said Monday was a "complete loss" because the site crashed, and on Tuesday it was still hard for donors to give because the website for the Charities Trust, which processes the donations, was running slowly.

He said there was a major flaw in the challenge in that it encouraged a sense of urgency by saying there was not enough match funding for all charities to meet their fundraising targets, but then could not cope with the high numbers of people rushing to make donations.

"It’s been a complete embarrassment because every day we’ve had donors calling us saying they want to give us money and they can’t," he said. "That’s very off-putting for them."

Scadding said some people had started a transaction, having been told match funding was available, but by the time they had given money they were told it had not been matched because the funding for that day had run out. He said that the challenge opened at 10am on Thursday and by 10.04am the match funding had run out for his charity.

Elisabeth Michau, director of fundraising at Children in Crisis, said a donor made a £1,000 gift to the charity at 10.03 on Thursday morning on the Big Give website but the donation was not matched because the window for match funding had already closed.

She said a £5,000 donation made through the challenge cost £200 in fees, because the Charities Trust takes a 4 per cent administration fee. But a donation of the same amount made on the charity’s own website would cost £15 in fees, she said.

Joe Saxton, co-founder of the consultancy nfpSynergy, said the scheme was not transparent and that some charities had said they were considering reporting the Big Give to the Fundraising Standards Board.

Other charities have had a more positive experience. Sarah Tessier, major gifts manager at the diabetes research charity JDRF, said it raised £25,000 in public donations through the challenge on Tuesday morning, meaning the charity hit its target and has raised a total of £50,000 this week through the scheme.

Helen Cable, operations manager for the Big Give, said that although the challenge had had problems, it had raised £8.7m so far, which was a "fantastic figure".

She said when the Big Give had been planning the challenge it had looked at the number of site visits in previous years to predict how many people would visit it this year. "But there’s been such an incredible response from donors, which has meant that some matching has closed within a few minutes," she said.

Cable said there had been a pot of money available to match-fund donations made by people who had been told match funding was available at the beginning of their transaction but found that the funding for the day had run out before the transaction was completed. But this pot had already been used up before the site crashed on Monday, she said.

"We will look into this for next year and take into account all the feedback we have received," she said.

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