Small Charities Coalition says it will no longer work with Virgin Money Giving

The move came after VMG tweeted its agreement with an article in The Sun that attacked its rival fundraising platform JustGiving

The Small Charities Coalition has said it will not work with Virgin Money Giving after the fundraising platform tweeted its agreement with an article in The Sun newspaper attacking JustGiving

But VMG has stood by its controversial tweet, which criticised JustGiving for making a profit.

On Friday The Sun’s front page demanded that JustGiving hand back the £308,000 the newspaper said the fundraising platform had made on the £39m raised by the 100-year-old Second World War veteran Tom Moore for NHS charities using a JustGiving page. 

After the story appeared, the Prime Minister also urged JustGiving to rethink its fee, which was taken in return for collecting Gift Aid on the donations.

The rival fundraising platform VMG tweeted that it agreed with The Sun that “no platform should make a profit on GiftAid” adding that “whilst you can’t run a fundraising website for free, you can do it without making a profit”. 

The tweet sparked a backlash among fundraisers and was later deleted. 

In an official complaint to VMG made on Saturday, the SCC said VMG’s tweet had provoked “anger and concern” and it "was no longer an option" for the two organisations to work together.

In the complaint, published on Twitter, Rita Chadha, chief executive of the SCC, said her organisation and a large number of others were “absolutely outraged at your public attempt to capitalise on the misrepresentation” offered by The Sun and the government, which she said showed a “woeful lack of understanding of how charities operate”. 

Chadha said this lack of understanding was a recurring issue within the media and government, but said “it should not be something that agencies working with charities also echo and seek to secure market advantage over”, and VMG’s approach “does not bode well for being a partner agency [charities] could have trust and confidence in”. 

She said a reference to VMG as a provider of fundraising services would be removed from SCC’s website. 

“Companies that seek to exploit charities and the spirit of voluntary endeavour will never be welcome at the Small Charities Coalition,” she said.

VMG was set up by the bank Virgin Money and operates on a not-for-profit basis. It charges a one-off payment from charities when they join, then a 2 per cent platform fee and 2.5 per cent payment processing fee on donations, but allows the donor to cover all fees if they choose. It has waived its platform fees during the coronavirus crisis.

Chadha was not the only one to express concern about VMG’s stance. 

Ian MacQuillin, director of the fundraising thinktank Rogare told Third Sector: “Plenty of people are willing to buy from JustGiving what VMG are giving away for free, which tells you something about the quality of the product they are offering.

“We have this big job in the charity sector about trying to explain to the public and the media that it costs money to raise money, and this is undermining that whole effort of the community.”

The fundraising consultant Richard Sved described the original tweet as “both shameful and shameless” and the move to delete it as “unimpressive and shoddy”.

Another consultant, Caroline Danks, branded the tweet “opportunism”, and fellow consultant Sarah Goddard suggested the company should have apologised.

In a statement, a VMG spokesman said there was an important debate to have on fundraising platforms' fees.

“After recent calls for fundraising platforms to be completely free, we used the post to draw attention to our not-for-profit model and to reconfirm the need for clarity and transparency with regard to the true cost of fundraising platforms for charities and their supporters,” he said. 

“While we stick by what we said, we removed the tweet because we didn’t want the timing to detract from Captain Tom and his wonderful fundraising effort.”

JustGiving declined to respond to VMG’s tweet.

Responding to The Sun’s story, a spokeswoman said: “Claiming Gift Aid back at scale is a complex procedure, which JustGiving makes simple for those charities that choose to use our service.

“By helping organisations such as NHS Charities Together raise more cash while substantially cutting their administration costs, we ensure millions more reaches good causes than was previously possible.”

Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising, said the body was disappointed with the comments about JustGiving.

“Fundraising costs money, whether it’s publicising your cause, facilitating donations, administrating Gift Aid, paying staff to support volunteers or using an online partner such as JustGiving,” he said. “Without the technology and innovation that JustGiving has brought to fundraising, the efforts of Tom Moore and millions of others would not have been nearly as successful as they have been.”

An IoF spokeswoman declined to comment specifically on VMG’s tweet.

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