How the London Marathon’s new partner plans to disrupt online fundraising

Rebecca Cooney speaks to Hugh Brasher and Chester Mojay-Sinclare about the partnership between London Marathon Events and the fundraising platform Enthuse

London Marathon 2021 (Photograph: Loredana Sangiuliano/Sopa Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
London Marathon 2021 (Photograph: Loredana Sangiuliano/Sopa Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Earlier this week, London Marathon Events, the organisers of the TCS London Marathon, Ride London and host of other mass-participation fundraising events, announced its new online fundraising partner – the platform that participants will be invited to use to solicit and collect sponsorship donations.  

When the press release arrived in the Third Sector inbox, announcing that a new partner had been chosen, one member of the editorial team was heard to exclaim: “Well, no prizes for guessing who that will be, then!”

The online fundraising platforms market, once crowded with a range of competitors, has taken a bit of a pruning in the past few years. The loss of BT MyDonate in June 2019 and the closure of Virgin Money Giving in October last year had left one major player standing: JustGiving. 

But LME announced that the lesser-known platform Enthuse will take over processing and managing the money raised by the 200,000 participants in LME’s seven major annual events over the next three years.

Hugh Brasher, event director at LME, describes Enthuse as “a young, dynamic, well-backed, fascinating company”.

The two organisations, he tells Third Sector, share a “combined vision of how can we really maximise the revenue for charities, how can we shake up the market, how can we be disruptive?”

The decision to partner Enthuse, he says, followed a “really extensive” consultation with charities, an examination of the market and a consideration of the ways in which mass participation events had been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of LME’s events were cancelled or severely curtailed in 2020, but the creation of virtual events, such has the option to participate in the London Marathon remotely at a time and place of your choosing within a 24-hour period, meant that when the race returned as a hybrid event in 2021, 80,000 people were able to take part – double the number of 2019 entrants.

“Some of what’s happened in the past 22 months has really taught us how to think [and] definitely how to work in a more agile way, how to use technology better, and what Enthuse really showed us was a commitment to technology, a commitment to a customer experience, a commitment to a really true integration of our platforms,” says Brasher.

The spot as fundraising partner for LME opened up after the company’s 12-year sponsorship deal with the bank Virgin Money came to an end last year. The bank created Virgin Monday Giving, the previous platform partner, as part of the sponsorship deal, and VMG became one of the largest players in the market as a result. 

When the sponsorship ended, Virgin Money closed VMG with just three months’ notice.

The abruptness of the move left a bad taste in the mouth for many in the sector, with Simon Scriver, co-founder of the fundraising events firm Fundraising Everywhere, describing it as “a kind of anti-corporate social responsibility – proactively damaging charities for the sake of their business and their own personal gain”. 

The LME flagship event, the London Marathon, which raised a record £66m for good causes in 2019, has since found another sponsor in Tata Consultancy Services.

However it ended and whatever its motivations, VMG’s existence did serve to shake up the donation platform market – by its own estimate, it helped 20,000 charities raise more than £900m.

And it is not unreasonable to assume that JustGiving’s decision to scrap its fees and instead ask donors for a voluntary tip was driven by VMG, which loudly trumpeted its lower fees at every opportunity.

The voluntary tip model has since become the industry standard and is the one Enthuse uses – there are no subscription fees for any of the charities involved in LME’s events.

For donors, there is a credit or debit card fee of 1.9 per cent, plus 20p. The platform also takes 5 per cent of Gift Aid value, where that is claimed.

And clearly, the new partnership means Enthuse is now in a position to create the same kind of disruption.

Brasher points out that where VMG came from a standing start, with no customers at all when it became the partner, Enthuse, which was founded as Charity Checkout in 2011, has years of experience and partnerships within the sector.

“The feedback we got from the sad demise of VMG was that what they had done for the industry was really important, they had provided a good challenge to the biggest platform, they had created choice, they had created something different,” he says.

“And we really look forward to Enthuse over time becoming the biggest platform for charity fundraising in the UK.”

Enthuse, which is backed by socially responsible investors, estimates that it has helped more than 4,000 charities raise more than £130m.

Chester Mojay-Sinclare, founder and chief executive of Enthuse, says: “For us this isn’t about doing the status quo for the next three years, it’s about doing something that is going to be transformative for the sector and for events fundraising in particular.”

He goes on to say: “A lack of competition is never a good thing.

“This is a sector that has needed that boost of competition and innovation and different thinking, and that is what this partnership marks – a transformative partnership that is going to be really positive for the charity sector in the UK.”

The key to Enthuse’s ethos, he says, is that it sees itself as a business-to-business service, rather than a business-to-consumer brand.

“For us, the customer is the charity, so we’re empowering them with the technology, and putting them at the forefront of the interaction with the donor,” he says.

“We’re not trying to jump in the way and make their supporters our customers, and that’s by the very nature what a customer brand does – it aims to be a household name. But we want charities to be the household names.”

There are three areas where Enthuse hopes to make a difference to the market – the first, Mojay-Sinclare says, is about allowing charities to put their brand, rather than Enthuse’s, front and centre on a participant’s fundraising page.

“It’s really important for charities to build their brand, to build their reputation, to develop and maintain their supporter relationships, and event fundraising is a great place to start with those incidental donors who are supporting their friend in the marathon, often giving to a charity for the first time,” he says.

The second is about the user experience, because Enthuse’s services will be integrated into LME’s platform.

A participant in the London Marathon will be able to accept their place in the race and set up their fundraising page at the same time, rather than organising it themselves separately – reducing the need for charities to chase participants to begin fundraising.

“There are two key points when people are most excited about the event – when they first sign up and in the run-up to the event,” Mojay-Sinclare says. “This is when we need to capture people’s imagination, inspire them and make things easy for them.”

The third area, he says, is about data – charities using Enthuse’s services will be able to customise the data they collect from participants and donors and access it though Enthuse’s centralised reporting system, but Enthuse itself has pledged never to send marketing emails to charities’ supporters.

The move towards a B2B approach is one that is already under way in the US, Mojay-Sinclare says, and in many ways it is sign of the maturation of the digital fundraising market.

“We’re starting to see donors wanting to have control over the digital fundraising,” he says.

“Alongside that, we’re seeing a shift with charities becoming more sophisticated and more digitally mature, and looking for tools that will give them a more sophisticated interaction, help them build longer-term supporter relationships and to grow their brand.”

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