A few weeks ago, I wrote a column in praise of the excellent charity Help for Heroes. Last weekend, the Sunday Times reported that Help for Heroes was criticising the excellent Justgiving, a private company that has enabled more than half a billion pounds to be raised for charity.
Help for Heroes denies it made the comments to the Sunday Times, and the journalist is standing by his story. But whatever the facts of this particular case, there has been some general criticism of Justgiving in the sector, and I feel the time is right to come to its defence.
What is Justgiving's crime? It charges 5 per cent commission on donations. It is privately owned and run for a modest profit. It pays its CEO and staff very well indeed. Simple as that.
This, we are told, is wrong. Some people are advising donors to use another site – one that doesn't make profits. This site has been around for a long time but, strangely, hasn't raised a great deal of money. And despite its recent relaunch, it will take a very long time to scale the heights reached by Justgiving.
It is on issues such as this that I despair about elements within our sector. Surely what matters about Justgiving isn't that it is profitable, but that it has transformed giving in this country.
Everyone knows someone who has used it. It is a brilliant innovation. Gone are the days of dog-eared sponsorship forms, running after people for money and maybe getting around to claiming Gift Aid. Justgiving takes care of all of that. Charities should be falling all over these people in gratitude, not criticising them.
The opprobrium comes, I think, from a deep naivety about the way things such as Justgiving happen in the first place. The founders had to develop new technology. Then they had to get take-up to high enough levels to cover massive early outlays. And, on a personal level, they had to put their reputations and, probably, personal lives on the line for several years.
Now they are successful, yes, it all looks very good for them – the two owners have 10 per cent each of the company. But it was not always thus. Not that they were motivated first by profit – both had a bigger goal: to transform UK fundraising. It was just that they figured the best way to do this was through a profit-pursuing company.
So come on, if you are one of those people nodding with agreement at the criticisms of Justgiving, ask yourself this: would you prefer a return to the dark ages we were in before its appearance? Would you be happy for that half a billion to have been, at best, a hundred million – with next to no Gift Aid collected?
Thought not. So let's judge achievements, not mechanisms; ends, not means. And let's recognise a brilliant success story for what it is.