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Pudsey and the social networks

Rory Cellan-Jones | 09:05 UK time, Thursday, 18 November 2010

Charitable fund-raising has always been a sociable affair - from lavish society events to "bring and buy" sales at the local school. But has the social media revolution of the last five years transformed fund-raising - and more importantly, has it made us more generous?

Alan Turing

Alan Turing

On the first point there seems little doubt. It feels like we are at the peak of the charity season - on Friday the BBC's annual Children in Need appeal takes place, with another frenzy of activity big and small around the country. There are plenty of other calls on our generosity - from Movember, where men grow moustaches in aid of prostate cancer charities, to an appeal by friends of the Bletchley Park computing museum to save for the nation the papers of the code-breaking genius Alan Turing.

What they have in common is their use of social media to spread the word; indeed, some of the smaller fund-raising efforts are based entirely online. In 2005, the internet was already central to the strategy of plenty of charities and amateur fund-raisers but back then, the principal tool was e-mail.

In 2010, it is the social networks, in particular Facebook, which have become the key platform for online giving. For anyone under 35, and for quite a few older fund-raisers, the obvious way to raise money is to create a page on a donation site and use your Facebook profile to promote the appeal.

Pat Heery

My colleague Pat is attempting a moustache [READ MORE]

I've been looking at an interesting presentation given by Jonathan Waddingham, digital strategist for donation site Justgiving at a fund-raising conference this summer. He says that the number of people raising funds has doubled in the last three years. During that period, the traffic arriving on his site has changed radically in nature.

Back in 2007, much of it came from e-mail services; now 46% is from Facebook. Just 3% is from Twitter, which underlines the fact that the micro-blogging service is still pretty micro in many of its effects on British life.

Another interesting fact: more than half of the online fund-raisers using Justgiving were under 35, while in the offline world it's generally older people involved in charity appeals.

The newer, younger, social fund-raisers are speeding up the whole process, tapping into their personal and professional networks and persuading their contacts to hand over money in a hurry, via the click of a mouse rather than by cash or postal order.

But hold on a minute: is that the whole picture? A report from the Charities Aid Foundation [531Kb PDF] makes less encouraging reading. It looks at 2008 and 2009 and finds an 11% decrease in donations compared to the previous two-year period. That, says the report, reflects the recession and a fall in very large individual donations.

My Children In Need appeal

'I've set myself a ridiculous challenge this year'

As for the method of donation, direct debit may be on the rise, but 48% of donors still chose to use cash, and the number claiming Gift Aid - something promoted by online giving - appears to have plateaued.

So that rather changes the picture. Yes, thousands of people are finding that social networks are a great place to raise a few hundred pounds for a favourite cause. But the big sums are still coming from major corporate and individual donors, and the Charities Aid Foundation's report concludes that encouraging higher earners to give more should be a priority for the charitable sector.

Still, if you want to see innovation, enthusiasm and a sense of community in fund-raising, look to the newer media. And it would be remiss of me not to mention an appeal that uses Twitter, Facebook, eBay, YouTube and Justgiving in support of Children in Need:


  • Comment number 1.

    There is no doubt social networks have empowered the little man but they are open to abuse. I wonder how many of the causes on social networks are scams, I think its the minority but it does ruin it for everyone. For that reason I would rather give in person for example directly to the volunteers doing the graft on the street.

  • Comment number 2.

    I work for Virgin Money, and as any typical Virgin group it is doing fund raising differently. We have a Facebook page, Twitter account and offer a "self service" for people wanting to raise funds for whatever charity they like.

    So yes, it is great to see that companies are using social networking for good causes.

    However, a interesting fact - still the most charity money is raised by putting money in a bucket to someone on the high street.

  • Comment number 3.

    No mention of the seemingly omnipresent chuggers? One of their favourite pitches is directly outside my office and I get accosted on an almost daily basis. Are they the anti-scoical face of charity fund-raising?

  • Comment number 4.

    TheMDawg, unfortunately the "volunteer" in the street is very rarely that, they mainly get paid for doing it now. So I'd rather give through a JustGiving page, where all the money goes to the charity.

    I think using facebook etc to raise money and raise awareness is an excellent idea - it doesn't take much effort to "like" something on facebook and have their updates come up on your news feed, so you can be updated on fundraising and other actitivies, and then anyone who wants to raise money for anything can put up a page on JustGiving, which is also really easy to use and promote. Another good thing is that anyone anywhere can donate - for example in the case of the little boy who wanted to do a bike ride to (I think) raise money for Unicef and their Haiti appeal - he ended up raising thousands of pounds through his JustGiving site as the story got some publicity and people from all over the world donated.

  • Comment number 5.

    Interesting article and as you say for fundraising, new media is definitely worth a look.
    You should look at the multitude of crowdfuding sites that have sprung up too. I'm sure you know Kickstater which is US based and of course got a lot of attention via Diaspora's fundraising but you should also take a look at the UK based ones like Sponsume, BuzzBank, Fundbreak, CrowdfunderUK. Two that are of particular interest for the ways they are tackling fundraising are Ploink and Flattr. Of course there's also Facebook's Causes and how they are integrating giving into Places too.

    I've missed loads of course and more will rise up but the genie is out of the bottle. Fundraising through social media is a no brainer, cheap and simple to do BUT is part of the picture not the whole picture.

  • Comment number 6.

    Just to be clear, not all the money you give to a charity through Just Giving goes to the charity. They are a commerical operation and, as their website shows, they take a fee equivalent to about 9% of the donation that you give on the website. This covers their fee, VAT etc. They don't take this from the direct donation but from the Gift Aid that they claim on the back of the donation. But since Gift Aid is money that you have earned and paid in taxes, it is still money that you are, in effect, giving to your chosen charity.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm heavily involved in Freegle, a charity which keeps usable items out of landfill. There are two other ways in which Facebook helps charities:

    1) It provides a way of spreading via word of mouth (or keyboard). This is particularly valuable for charities which have very limited budgets (Freegle, for example, has an annual budget of about £500, but pretty much all charities think they have limited budgets).

    2) It provides a fairly nice development platform which charities can use to provide more sophisticated information and facilities to people. Doing this within an environment which people are already familiar with makes them easier to use.

  • Comment number 8.

    I've always found it odd people give to the (paid) volunteer on the street hassling for you to stop and talk as you're running late to something. Willingness to give your entire details required to take money directly from your bank account to a scraggy guy in a logo-emblazened vest and a badge printed in an ink jet as proof 'its legit!' - I'm boggled. I makes as much sense as when your credit card company calls you and then asks you for verification (acct number, postcode, date of birth) to prove you are the card holder? Pardon? They called me, if anyone should be doing verification it's me in who the heck they are asking for enough info to take out a loan in my name!?

    I'm all for giving but do some background checks, verify who you're giving to. Most are likely good people, but all it takes is one dodgy one and your holiday season is ruined after your account is cleared out.

  • Comment number 9.

    Charities need to be transparent. Groups like Intelligent Giving try to help, but too much is opaque.

    Face-to-face fundraising, or chugging, is the best example. These professional fundraisers are employed by profit-making companies. However, it is virtually impossible to get a figure out of the chuggers, the profit-making companies, or the charities themselves, as to how much each signature costs. Often they claim that all the money goes to the charity because the charities pay up front for the donors, but this is semantics, since people are interested in how much of their money, net, goes to the charities. When charities claim 'commercial confidence' when donors ask how much the campaign recruiting them costs then it is obvious that something is very, very wrong.

    The recent Newsnight investigation showed that many of these firms are taking more than £100 per donor signature. Charities and the firms know people would not give under these circumstances if they knew the truth. The individuals themselves are emblazoned with the charities logos, and only have the profit-making company's name on a small badge. Even the company names, like Gift, are cleverly chosen to give the impression of altruism rather than profit. I downloaded the accounts of one of the face-to-face companies from Companies House, and its charitable donations were £0.00 despite directors earning six figure salaries.

    The end doesn't always justify the means, but the charities can't help themselves in supporting this parasitic fundraising arms race. But people don't expect the first year of direct debits to go to a profit-making firm, before it even starts to cover the overheads of the charity, never mind doing good. Shame on the Charities Commission.

    Give to a local charity, whose good work you can see and whose offices you can inspect.

  • Comment number 10.

    So I'd rather give through a JustGiving page, where all the money goes to the charity.


    Just so that you're aware, JustGiving takes a percentage of what you give - see 'What It Costs' in their terms and conditions.

  • Comment number 11.

    Regarding comment 9:

    I used to work for a face to face fundraising company, and at the time we were told that for every sign up, the charity paid around £70.

    I personally was dubious about the benefits of street based fundraising, but there are a few factors working in its favour. Firstly, the average person donates for 2-3 years via direct debit. This has a far greater potential for donations than someone dropping a couple of quid in a bucket. The charities can also plan ahead a little, knowing that there is money coming in (at least in theory).

    I think that, in all honesty, some people do take it way too far - I've been chased down the street by people, had them tell me that I can cancel before my first payment comes out etc. which is of course hideously unethical. That said, I think there are good people doing the job. Personally, I worked for 6 charities in my time doing that job, and I signed up for £10 a month to each of them, which I still pay.

    At the end of the day, the charities are aware that people don't necessarily like the face to face style of fundraising, but it's the most successful method they have, which is surely the main thing at the end of the day.

    I hope this doesn't come over like I'm defending these companies wholly (I'm not) but I do think they serve their purpose.

  • Comment number 12.

    Oh I didn't realise that JustGiving takes some of the money - but if it is from the Gift Aid, your whole donation is still going to the charity, instead of when you give to people in the street and their salaries come out of the money which the charity earns.

  • Comment number 13.

    Justgiving is just another company making money off the back of charities. We use charitychoice and all donations go directly to Coventry Cat group with no commission , they are even about to start doing the gift aid as well.
    Whether cat people tend to be in the over-35s in general I don't know. We have a facebook page as it was suggested by a younger volunteer but don't think it has any traffic.

    Big companies and big charities with promotional budgets are really making it difficult for the smaller charities to survive as we just cannot compete with them. We have a handful of direct debits but apart from that and homing 'donations' receive very little.
    We have stopped doing stalls as we rarely made enough to cover our pitch and even the tin rattling brings much less in than it did a couple of years ago.
    Would welcome any suggestions - the only things on the increase are the number of abandoned cats and our vets bills.

  • Comment number 14.

    "Just 3% is from Twitter, which underlines the fact that the micro-blogging service is still pretty micro in many of its effects on British life."
    A fact I will hope is reflected in the balance of reporting and blogging at the BBC ... but while hoping, I won't be holding my breath.

  • Comment number 15.

    Thanks to Social Media it means that I will be at BBC Radio 2 tomorrow helping man the phones during the music marathon.

    Someone I know via Chris Evan's blog on the Radio 2 site is in charge of organising the team

  • Comment number 16.

    I stopped giving to charity, the Money that is often collected rarely lands into the hands of the people who need it, and when it does eventually get to the destination country it is skimmed off by so many corrupt individuals.

    Over the years Band Aid, Children in Need, appeals for Ethiopia, Bangladesh, etc etc etc have raised hundreds of millions of £'s and yet nothing changes, year on year we see the same starving peoples on our TV screens and in the newspapers if after the decades of giving things cannot be improved then what is the point ?

  • Comment number 17.

    The use of social media to promote charities can only be a good thing as by definition people will be engaged while online and so are able to find out more about the charity to which they might donate. My Last Song is a website that has a charity of the month page where the selected charity puts the case for a legacy donation.
    This greater level of engagement will push up the quality of how charities communicate and also the outcomes they deliver.

  • Comment number 18.

    @ Spinonthis - Fair point and I do understand where you're coming from. In my view, anyone should get to know the charity, be able to see their accounts and their spending. I know that projects like Tearfund (for example) work directly with local partners and people on the ground, so money and resources go direct to source. It also helps if you know those involved personally - as I do with a project working with street children in DR Congo for example (Congo Children Trust). The other point to think about is that you will make an impact somewhere. I sponsor a child via Compassion and it's making a difference in her life. When you give to projects like these, it makes a huge difference and can see and read about the impact. The best thing is to give intelligently. You can't help everyone but you will help someone. I just want my life to make a lasting influence. Giving is one of the best ways in life - through money, time and energy :)

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.


    Next year, instead of actioning it all off on ebay, how about doing a raffle for say, £1 a ticket? Not everyone has £200+ sitting around doing nothing in these cash-strapped days.

  • Comment number 21.

    re sally chambers and others

    hi, I work and am paid a salary for a local charity with strong ethical standards. Regardless of what is written here most charities prefer standing orders/direct debits to one off donations. I would suggest that standing orders stay on the books for much longer than the 2/3 years stated above. That really depends on the cause and the amount of the standing order. Our experience is that they rarely come off, unless through life changing circumstances, and so provide huge income for the cause. I strongly recommend that it's far better to set up a dd/standing order with a really worthwhile cause whose account books are transparent and ethically sound. I would also suggest that if details of running costs of a charity are not available then just don't give!! p.s I think sally chambers from 'just giving' shouldn't blatantly plug particular charities on these kind of forums!!!! Why was this allowed on the site BBC?

  • Comment number 22.

    Just for the record, RNLI street collectors are unpaid volunteers and every penny goes to save lives. If you are unsure whether a street collector is paid or unpaid, ask the collector, if you don't like the answer, walk on. They will also carry either an id card or a letter of authentication. It is also against the licensing law to harass any person whilst collecting in the street and a complaint to the council will be acted upon.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi tomcat – Sorry for the reference to a specific charity. I was trying to provide an example of a charity that can make a small amount go a long way to illustrate my point. I believe that even a small amount donated to charity can make a big difference.

    PHSP, thanks for your comment re: JustGiving charges and VAT. I work at JustGiving and we try to make it really clear what we charge charities - in all circumstances, our transaction fee is 5% plus VAT, never 9%.

    P.S. Rory – LOVE the picture :-) and best of luck with your fundraising.

  • Comment number 24.

    Before tarring all volunteer collectors with the same brush as the paid 'volunteers' please ask them whether they are being paid for collecting, and also who is employed by the charity. If you do not like the answer, do not give. Me & and my husband both volunteer for a local charity that is very close to our hearts. This charity is almost entirely dependant on donations, so you can understand that this subject is very personal. You will find a group of dedicated voluteers most weekends collecting in local streets, shopping precincts & shops etc (with either a licence from the local council, permission from the shop and sometimes both) handing out the little stickers that is given with every donation.
    Please note that collectors are not allowed to rattle the boxes/buckets, ask for donations from members of the public, let alone go chasing down the street (even if I could catch you, which I doubt) to get a donation from you! We are not allowed to speak to anyone unless they donate or speak to us, plus, we are not allowed to put the stickers on any of the donars, especially children, this is to protect us (false accusations) and the members of the public. If anyone infringes these rules, report them to the local council and/or shop and the charity will not be licenced or given permission to collect again this is usually the most devastating punishment for the charity.

  • Comment number 25.

    I am happy to give to charity but I refuse to do so via, a for profit company that in addition to the £15 per month it charges charities, takes 5% of each donation (5.875% including VAT, thank you wikipedia). Just "Giving"? More like just profiteering from people wanting to do good.


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