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Charities online

July 2007

We all know that charities can be big business, but I had not realised just how far the internet has crept into the collecting boxes until very recently.

It came about because my daughter decided to run a half marathon with a bunch of fellow medical students and use the event to raise money for the Anthony Nolan Trust, which finds donors for bone marrow transplants.  All of the runners being children of the internet age, they spurned the dog-eared sponsorship forms we used to have thrust under our noses and decided to collect money online.

They used an organisation called  You create your own page on their website and then email everyone you know and tell them about it, and if you are lucky, they will visit the page and make a donation using their credit or debit card.  If you are a UK taxpayer, the website can claim a Gift Aid tax rebate that enhances the gift by a whopping 28%.

The Charity you pick has to be one that has a contractual relationship with the website, and they will only take on bona fide UK Charities; if you want to see what it looks like and how it works, my daughter’s page is

The numbers are impressive; since 2001, over three million people have made donations through the site, raising more than £140 million for over 3,000 charities.

So what’s driving  Simple – they are a commercial company and the easier they make it for donors to give, the more money they earn.  They charge every charity up to £20 per month and then take a fee of 5%+VAT of all donations, together with any fees charged by the credit card companies.  The total cost to the charity, therefore, is about 7.5%.

Is this too much?  I don’t think so.  I have no problem with any company making a profit from a value for money service, to a charity or anyone else.

The real question is whether the charities that use it are generating more income from it than it costs them, and my instinct is that they are.’s own research demonstrates that 30% of donors would not have given anything if they had not been directed to their friend’s website.

If there is a problem it’s perhaps simply that are pretty much the only fish in the sea, and so the competitive pressures on them are slight.  There is one tiny competitor ( but they are minute in comparison and anyway their charges are as close as makes no difference.

Don’t get me wrong – I have no reason whatever to doubt’s ethics or methods, and they have some very impressive management (notably Anne-Marie Huby, who used to run the UK end of Medecins sans Frontiers).  The donations are all kept right out of the reach of both the fundraisers and in a trust account, which passes the money onto the charities after paying their fees.

So, I approve of  If they can make an honourable profit by providing a service that is value for money, I won’t complain.

I was relieved to find that this view is shared by another excellent site,, a not-for-profit organisation that helps donors find the right home for their money, and are, incidentally one of the first places you might visit to check out a charity that is new to you, before giving them anything.

As a fundraising tool, certainly worked for my daughter.  As some of you already know, I rather impertinently emailed many of you who had emailed me in the last few years and asked you to consider supporting her efforts – and blow me down, between you almost £1,000 rolled in.  This should not surprise me as my correspondents are almost always charming and kind in their emails, but such open handed generosity was slightly overwhelming.  Thank you very much indeed.