Internet Makes Giving Easy

Katie Kenny, The Dominion Post

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From medical treatment to insane sporting challenges to travelling goals and even a miniature pony called Color, online fundraising sites are transforming charitable giving.

Gone are the days of sausage sizzles and raffles, these days people looking to raise money are turning to fundraising websites to crowd source money for their causes.

Asking people for money on the internet first became popular with tech company start-ups and artists in the United States, where the bakesale and charity ball have been all but usurped by the proliferation of such websites.

In New Zealand, Givealittle, Everyday Hero, Fundraise Online, and Go Fundraise, are just some of the options available for people wanting to give or collect money online, but concerns about cybersafety have people wondering if it's the smart option.

Fundraising Institute of New Zealand (FINZ) chief executive James Austin says technology has transformed fundraising for the better. In his eyes, everyone wins.

"In the last 10 years, technology has changed the way we think about charity, and also seen a shift in people who give in charity."

Historically, donors in New Zealand were elderly, middle class, heavily involved in their church and community, and female - traits not typical of internet users.

In the days before fibre optic cables, charities targeted potential donors, writing and posting letters. If a recipient liked the sound of a charity, and made a donation, the charity would then go to efforts to maintain contact. Ideally, the donor would have a relationship with their chosen charity for the rest of their lives and - if the organisation was lucky - even after death, in the form of bequests.

"Now, when people call for funds, thanks to the internet, they can go anywhere," Austin says.

"Suddenly we're getting younger donors. People in their 30s and 40s." But, he says, the flipside of this opportunity for greater awareness is greater competition.

"The role and growth of charities is expanding in New Zealand, and that's good. Kiwis are also being more generous with their money.

"We're very supportive of crowdfunding and of charities ensuring their online presence is geared towards promoting fundraising. They've also got to use their own sources, make sure they've got a website, Twitter, Facebook, in order to be up with the play."

Wellington Free Ambulance (WFA) is one of the registered charities making the most of crowdfunding platforms such as Givealittle. Three staff are competing in a triathlon in March, using the site to encourage people to support them by donating money to WFA. Communications and fundraising executive manager Diane Livingston says for WFA it's a mutually beneficial use of the Givealittle concept, which was a positive for charity overall. "People have to have the options to give to the thing they believe in. This is one of many more avenues to do that.

"There's a lot out there, yes, in terms of competition. I guess we're lucky in that we're so well known and supported, and we provide that core emergency service."

Plunket's national fundraising manager Carolyn Mettrick says the newer platforms for fundraising don't appear to be harming traditional charities. "We can't speak for all charities in New Zealand, but we haven't seen a decline in donations since Givealittle launched.

"For Plunket, digital platforms give us more ways to connect with people - whether it's generous people donating because they want to help us give young children the best start in life, or parents looking for information, or asking our Plunket nurses for advice through our Facebook chats."

When Spark (then Telecom) purchased homegrown start-up Givealittle in 2012, it had existed for four years, and catered to a "niche" market, Spark Foundation general manager Lynne Le Gros says. Spark abolished service fees, making it free for anyone to use, and it's since become "the Trade Me of giving", with a total of almost $20 million raised so far. Le Gros says for the year ending June 2015, Givealittle is expected to have raised $15m in donations; that's double the amount from the previous financial year.

What makes it so successful?

"In the past you might have read about a person in need who has an account set up for donations, but you might have thought that to go to the bank was just too much effort for a small donation.

"Like it has done in many markets, the internet has changed that. Most people now have a computer or smartphone, and a credit card. If they come across a story that resonates with them, it's no hassle to donate; there are zero fees, it's a transparent process, with all the money going directly to the cause."

Good Samaritan Lucy Knight, the woman who suffered a skull fracture and brain bleed after intervening in an alleged bag snatch attempt in Auckland, is the most prominent case in the site's history.

The campaign set up to offer the family support raised about $270,000 from more than 5000 donors.

"If it hits the right buttons, it drives that emotional connection, and that's what drives the generosity," Le Gros says.

But not all recipients have been deserving. Last year, a woman allegedly faked cancer and fraudulently raised $15,000 on Givealittle. The 23-year-old faces three charges of obtaining pecuniary advantage totalling more than $15,000 by deception, and another charge of obtaining a lease of a car by deception.

Le Gros can't comment on the case as it's still before the courts, but says it is the only time a page had been at the centre of a police investigation.

To stave off spurious causes, staff moderate every page, verifying the identity of users, as well as checking on legality of fundraising. In order for a page to become fully visible it needs to receive three independent donations.

Following the campaign, the receiver must pass a verification process to ensure the money is going to the right place.

"If we have dodgy content, we know really quickly. But we're dealing with a lot of very sad situations, so we'll also have to handle it with delicacy and respect." Still, there's "a lot of good faith" in the system, LeGros says. "If it's abused, it could spoil it for everyone."

Perhaps surprisingly, crowdfunding platforms including online fundraising sites actually have a remarkably successful record of squashing fraudulent accounts. The World Bank's report on crowdfunding in 2013 found very few documented cases of deception. Figures released by police and Statistics New Zealand show in the 2013-14 financial year there was a 8.7 per cent increase in fraud, deception, and related offences.

A police spokesman says it is an offence group that varies year on year, "due to the scope of individual investigations which can often feature multiple charges against one offender".

"For instance, in the 2012-13 financial year there was a 5.1 per cent decrease in the same offence category."

Despite the boom in charitable websites, there was no "noticeable increase" in related fraud offences, he said. However, there is an increasing trend when it comes to Kiwis' generosity.

Philanthropy NZ chief executive Liz Gibbs says research shows that Kiwis are fourth globally in terms of generosity per capita. The next lot of data is due in September, and Gibbs anticipates the trend of increasing generosity will continue, partly owing to crowdfunding.

Internet Makes Giving Easy

 
 

 

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