Online giving takes off

04 Oct 2010 Voices

Technology is a powerful force for positive change, but good service is still essential, says John Tate. 

Technology is a powerful force for positive change, but good service is still essential, says John Tate

September produced some really interesting news related to IT and the charity sector.

Firstly, a US organisation called Mashable has published some great information on the growth of on-line giving in the US. According to their research of the $303bn of US donations in 2009, online transactions accounted for $15bn. Not a high percentage you might think although the total online figure is pretty staggering. However there are some interesting trends to get out of this information. Firstly, the growth is dramatic – with the amount given rising from $10.4bn in 2007. Secondly, the example is given of the Haiti earthquake in January 2010 when the Red Cross launched a text message donation system of $10 for each text sent. By August three million people had donated a total of $32m. The really interesting statistic is that 95 per cent of these people were first time donors.

So the good news is that online giving is rising in the US and that significant funds can be raised by this approach. However, charities need to be cautious about the level of investment made in this area as in the short-term it may only generate a small proportion of total income.

Finally, the Mashable website has an interesting section titled ‘10 Ways to Start a Fund for Social Good Online’. It is worth taking a look at this to see some examples of US activity in this area

Secondly, two people were jailed in September over fraudulent use of funds from Comic Relief and the National Lottery for crimes committed between 2001 and 2005. Half a million pounds was stolen by the creation of numerous ‘fake’ organisations who applied for grants, pretending to help displaced people from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Although some charity work was done, the facts showed that money had been spent on lavish lifestyles for those convicted.

To make matters worse those sentenced were also selling their secrets of the fraud scam to others, showing how charity funds could be accessed with little or no oversight of how the money was used. While this fraud happened some years ago it is a huge disappointment to see this occurring. With basic web site development tools it is relatively easy to create a credible front to dubious activities via fake web sites with fictitious marketing/project activity.

Finance staff need to be diligent when allocating funds to previously unknown organisations. Perhaps also greater transparency on expenses of senior staff would help?

Thirdly, September saw a range of interesting research on customer satisfaction levels with banks. This included a report by Which?. Overall their results showed an average customer satisfaction score of 59 per cent – with the lowest at 43 per cent and the highest at 82 per cent. Banks use technology to underpin most of what they do and despite this the ratings for their service are far from impressive.

My personal experience has mirrored these results as I have had a really lousy service from both my personal and my company bank in recent weeks.

A couple of examples. I arranged by phone to pick up a banker’s draft on a Friday at a branch near my office to buy a car which I wanted to collect on Saturday. I turned up at the branch to collect it – to be told it was not ready and would need to come back the following week. I asked to speak to the manager as I had been promised the draft – to be told he/she was too busy to see me.

Separately, my company credit card keeps getting blocked (3 times in the last few months) because of ‘unusual levels of activity’. Unfortunately the bank has not chosen to inform me of the block – and this has caused much confusion/embarrassment with suppliers. When querying why they do not inform me they say they are busy and it can take 24-48 hours before I am notified. I rang the complaints line to raise this. Was promised a call back and never got it. Etc, etc.

For an organisation that uses technology so extensively, my bank has let me down. There are some lessons to learn from this. Technology alone is usually not enough to deliver customer service. People who care are also required. I suspect my bank does not feel it is necessary to deliver a good level of service to make money – as they know the hassle of switching to a new provider puts most people off the change. 

John Tate is an IT analyst in the charity sector and founder of Citra 

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