New BT fundraising website is 'Bullyboy Tactics', says social entrepreneur

Robert Ashton

New BT fundraising website is 'Bullyboy Tactics', says social entrepreneur11

Fundraising | Tania Mason | 8 Apr 2011

BT’s move to launch a no-fee fundraising website has drawn criticism from social entrepreneur and author Robert Ashton, who has accused the telecoms giant of using its financial muscle to deliberately undermine the market's creator JustGiving.

Ashton, who wrote How to be a Social Entrepreneur, said that with all the resources at BT’s disposal, it should have developed something genuinely new and innovative that could add real value to the sector.

Instead it just launched something that copies and undercuts the company that spent years building the marketplace from scratch, he said.

BT’s new site, MyDonate, will not charge a subscription or set-up fee for its services, so that charities will only have to pay debit and credit card charges out of the monies that donors raise for them.  It will be in direct competition with JustGiving, which created the online giving marketplace in 2001 and Virgin Money Giving, which joined the market last year.  Both of these operators charge charities a small fee out of the donations raised.

Ashton said: “Undeniably, increasing the amount of money available for charities is a good thing.  But with the financial muscle available to BT they could have created something entirely new that could have grown into something even more beneficial to the charity sector.

“What they are doing goes against the grain of social entrepreneurship, which should be collaborative rather than competitive,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with social enterprises making reasonable profits.

“We need social enterprises to behave entrepreneurially: that’s how philanthropy can grow.  What incentive is there for others to follow the brave example of the team behind JustGiving?

“They created a new concept, they did the marketing legwork and they finally set it to see it deliver them a return.  JustGiving has made a colossal difference to the UK fundraising landscape and now, just as soon as things come good, someone comes along and tries to price them out of the market they’ve just created.”

Ashton added that: “BT should stand for Brilliant Thinking, not Bullyboy Tactics.”

BT said it simply wanted to increase the sums of money raised for charities, not to "bully anyone into giving to charity using MyDonate".

A spokesman said: "Justgiving should be commended for the fantastic job it has done by creating the UK’s online charitable giving market. Ten years on, since Justgiving was created, there are now multiple online charity donation platforms in the UK, offering fundraisers a choice of different and complimentary services.

"With only 7 per cent of the UK adults who give to charity currently making donations over the internet, we hope MyDonate will help provide greater awareness and choice, and grow the market further."

20 Mar 2012

This website has BT's name plastered all over it and whilst anything that can help increase charity donations is welcomed this is yet another example of BT using its massive monopoly position for backdoor self promotion.

By all means do this site BT but I would have greater respect for the motivation behind it if their logo's were not all over it.

BT likes to portray itself as the good guy but in reality uses ANY trick it can with massive multi-million pound ad campaigns to try to crush its generally tiny opposition which is of benefit only to BT. Why the regulator OFCOM allows this can only be guessed at but it does not appear legitimate to me.

Carl Allen
13 Apr 2011

Great comments!

But no strategy for JustGiving from these eminent names!

Edward Harkins
Knowledge & Research Consultant
11 Apr 2011

Christian, I accept your point about the strategic focus of the original article. You express disappointment at others here for confusing the collaborative/ competition with the strategic. I’m afraid, however, that Robert Ashton’s reported comments, for me, instigated the confusion and, for me, are rather too contentious to offer much of a basis for a bigger, broader take on strategy.

For example, Robert Ashton reportedly says of BT that ‘“What they are doing goes against the grain of social entrepreneurship, which should be collaborative rather than competitive”.

That just takes us back to the seemingly pervasive and unending debate about ‘what is social enterprise?’ For now, I just observe that half of the generic term ‘social enterprise’ is the word ‘enterprise’ – and it’s axiomatic that competition is part of an enterprise culture.

If an individual has a belief set that denies competition and praises only collaboration, that is a respectable, even admirable, belief set – but it is not a well-bedded or overwhelmingly held strategic concept.

I’m also not sure whether it is to do with the way Robert Ashton has been reported in the article; but I can’t see how his reported statement about social enterprise not being about being competitive, coheres with his immediately following comments that:

“There is nothing wrong with social enterprises making reasonable profits.”


“We need social enterprises to behave entrepreneurially.”

I can only say, again, that I do not see how these statements all readily hang together.

When Robert Ashton seemingly attacks BT as a ‘bully boy’ for seeking to develop a market pioneered by another company (JustGiving), is this not, at best, plain naivity? In all market systems, ‘first-timers’ or innovators will know and expect that imitators, substitutes and second-phase innovators will move in on any successful product or service.

That’s why companies have for generations sought to protect their first-time products by undermining the workings of markets. They do this through patents, copyrights and benign regulatory devices put in place by sympathetic governments in a company’s home state.

Indeed, since the late 1950s, there has been an immense field of bibliography, research and practice around all of these strategic imperatives.

Collaboration is, incidentally, also much practised in the private sector – but it has a dark underbelly with all the symptoms of cartels, price-fixing etc. I wouldn’t want to see part of the social enterprise world going down that road.

If JustGiving now comes up with another innovatory product that outflanks BT’s offer, would that be OK – and if so, why would that be OK if BT was a ‘bully boy’ for having done so in the first place?

Christian Agbodza
World Governance International
11 Apr 2011

On the whole I have been disappointed with the comments in response to Robert Ashton's article.

Whereas Robert is raising questions about BT's strategic effectiveness with respect to the charity sector, contributions have either focused on the operating environment (e.g Rob Young and Geri Stengel) or the impact of BT's new service on charity sector funding (e.g. Barry Gower) or BT's marketing objective (e.g. Olajiga) or the collaborative/competition strategies open to social enterprises (e.g Peter Munro).

These alternative comments are sound I think.

But they are all beside the point because they do not address the strategic issue that Robert Ashton is raising.

In my humble opinion, acceptable though it is for us to present our views on issues, it must surely be good to evaluate a contribution on its own terms.

Rob Young
11 Apr 2011

Let's all get real - it's a competitive market - and anyone can enter the fray! Justgiving etc are all good stuff but we are all having to compete rather than "tree-hug"!!

Christian Agbodza
World Governance International
11 Apr 2011
Response to [Rob Young]

Robert Ashton is questioning BT's strategic effectiveness* to the charity sector giving its resource domain. You are drawing attention to the operating environment - competition. Two different issues I am afraid.

"But with the financial muscle available to BT they could have created something entirely new that could have grown into something even more beneficial to the charity sector.@

Geri Stengel
9 Apr 2011

At the end of the day, social enterprises are businesses and have to operate like businesses, including dealing with competition. JustDonate already has competition in online giving and has to find a way to compete with BT. Which one of the earlier comments may have provided.

Will donors be as happy to give via BT’s site if they know their email address will be kept by BT for marketing purposes? Or would they rather their address go to the nonprofit so they can keep up to date on its activities? Tablet manufacturers are using that tactic to compete with Apple’s iPad. Apple keeps the address of magazine subscribers; other services don’t. That difference gives those other services an edge.

Barry Gower
GAIN Gift Aid Recovery Consultants
8 Apr 2011

Robert Ashton's comments sum up everything that is wrong with the charity sector's approach to fundraising. Fundraisers have to realise that fundraising is ALL about money. Statements like " fundraising is not about money, its about building relationships " and "providing something genuinely new and innovative that could add real value to the sector" are meaningless unless they bring real money to charities. (By the way, can he explain what this 'something' could be?) If BT or anyone else raises money for charities and increases the total amount for the sector, then good on them.

As an aside, what does he mean by 'real value to the sector'? Charity shops add value to the sector by providing a social venue for the volunteers, but if an alternative use for the premises can generate more money for the charity, I wonder what Mr Ashton would recommend?

8 Apr 2011

I personally think its all about data capture. BT wants to have access to the details of millions of people that donates to charities via MyDonate.
I strongly believe their motives is purely not charity related, rather marketing and it only goes to show how companies view charities (tools) and nothing more.

8 Apr 2011
Response to [Olajiga]

And what do you think their motives are? Your comments is purely based on your assumptions.

Peter Munro
Scottish Borders Social Enterprise Chamber
8 Apr 2011

I disagree. Whilst it's pleasant if social enterprises can work collaboratively, they also need to operate in the real world and that's competitive.

There are a number of different players in the online donation market, and I'm sure others will enter the fray.

BT could have done more than they have by offering to pay the credit and debit card processing fees themselves, but presumably Robert Ashton would have been even more critical, if they had done that.


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