The irritations of online giving

A squabble between a charity and an online giving site last week aptly demonstrates the nervousness that many charities feel in the wake of the collapse of the CharityGiving site last year.

The row – in which the two parties squared up through the media (i.e. me) – took place after George Overton of the children’s charity HCPT The Pilgrimage Trust, aired his grievances about a site called in a comment on the Third Sector website.I was curious and contacted Overton, who told me his charity had been burned by the CharityGiving case last year. Giveall had approached HCPT last summer after collecting money on its behalf, but without its “knowledge or permission”. To receive the money, Overton said, the charity was told that it would have to pay a £20 + VAT monthly fee and give “confidential details” about its trustees.

“We were wary of taking on any more agreements with online fundraising platforms following the situation with CharityGiving and were happy with the agreements we already had with JustGiving and Virgin Money Giving,” Overton told me. “We didn’t like doing it under duress.”

Nevertheless, he signed up. In November, Giveall made the money owed to HCPT available, and the charity withdrew the £2,600 owed to it in January. The charity is still paying the monthly fee.

So what did Giveall have to say? I spoke to Chris O’Malley, co-founder of Giveall2Charity, which is a charity itself. He said that the money for HCPT was raised during a one-off corporate fundraising event called the Aon Benfield ABikeathon, in which more than £300,000 was donated directly to Giveall2Charity. The deal was that Giveall then made “grants” to charities nominated by event participants on the condition that the charities registered with the site.

The site normally functions similarly to JustGiving and co., allowing fundraisers to create pages to attract sponsorship from family and friends – but unlike its counterparts, it allows people to fundraise for charities which aren’t registered, though such charities can never get their hands on the money without signing (and paying) up.

O’Malley said it wasn’t unfair for charities to have to pay to access money raised for them: donors were advised that if their first-choice charity was not registered with his platform, they could give their money to a second-preference charity instead. Registration was free for charities with annual incomes of less than £10,000, O’Malley said, and if a charity worked with Giveall “and didn’t want to stay registered, we could have had them in and out in around 2-3 months”.

As for the information required from charities, it was purely to comply with anti-money laundering requirements, he said. He added that Giveall planned to adopt a subscription-free model as soon as it can sustain itself in that way.

I went back to Overton, who remained annoyed by the experience. “The fact remains that Giveall collected money on our behalf, without our knowledge or permission, then charged us via monthly direct debit, and collected excessive information from us, in order to allow us to access the funds,” he said.

So is it fair for a charity to have to pay to get hold of money a fundraiser wants to give it? Answers on a postcard. At the very least, the episode illustrates how suspicious some charities have become about the growing number of competing fundraising websites with their very varied business models.