Let's talk about the accountability of crowdfunding, says Bowel Cancer UK chief

Deborah Alsina tells Third Sector's Fundraising Conference that too much money raised in this way for, say, individual cancer sufferers ends up in private bank accounts if unused

Deborah Alsina
Deborah Alsina

Charities need to engage with the public about the governance and accountability of crowdfunding, Deborah Alsina, chief executive of Bowel Cancer UK has said.

Speaking at Third Sector’s Fundraising Conference in central London today, Alsina warned that too much of the money raised for people, such as cancer sufferers wanting to pay for treatment, ended up in private bank accounts if the person was unable to use it for the intended purpose.

Kate Lee, chief executive of the children’s cancer charity Clic Sargent, who appeared on the same panel, agreed, saying crowdfunding was "sucking money" out of the her sector. But she added that charities also needed to "stop sulking" and engage with the challenge to seize the opportunities it presented.

Alsina said: "I think crowdsourcing is a huge, huge issue. I talk to people who are dying every day and they are struggling to get access to hope. Our wonderful NHS doesn’t have enough money and you can’t access treatment that would be available anywhere in the world unless you’re a private patient, so they’re fundraising for that."

She said she understood people’s desire to explore every opportunity and give their loved ones every chance to survive, but she was worried about the numbers of people who were raising money for treatments that had no basis in reality.

"And the other aspect of this is about the accountability of money," she said.

Alsina said there had been campaigns in which friends and family had donated leftover money to charity after the person it was raised for did not survive, but she had also been involved in conversations in which it became clear that families intended to keep the money and spend it on themselves.

"What’s the legal right with that money?" she asked. "People are giving to an individual for a treatment that might or might not work, but when it fails, which it generally does, what happens to that cash? It’s been sucked out of the sector and gone to a private bank account.

"Is that why people donate? Do they realise how unlikely such fundraising is to really add value for many people?"

She said the sector needed to be "thinking supportively about the governance of crowdfunding" and what should happen in such circumstances.

"I think fundraisers need to get into this and start having this conversation" Alsina added.

"It has to be about strategically driving forward that change together, but accepting there are circumstances in which people are fundraising for hope for an individual."

Lee said the sector also needed to talk more about what value traditional charities could give compared with families doing it their own way.

"We’re just not talking up what we offer in the terms of accountability and transparency," she said.

She added that she had been "grumpy" about the growth of personal fundraising, but  the sector’s response to it was a symptom of the fact that it had not managed to "get digital right" yet.

"Crowdfunding is sucking in money at a rapid and growing rate, so I say stop sulking about it and ask what the opportunity is here’," she said.

For example, she said she was interested in how restricted funding streams could be supported by funding from online fundraising platforms.

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