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Technology is great but it's not a magic bullet

09 Jul 2012 Voices

The launch of a new digital fundraising platform for arts and heritage organisations has made Kirsty Weakley think about how she wants to support them in the future.

The launch of a new digital fundraising platform for arts and heritage organisations has made Kirsty Weakley think about how she wants to support them in the future. 

This might sound odd coming from an IT reporter and self-confessed gadget geek, but technology is not always the only solution. In fact I fear that organisations expecting any new online donation platform or app to be revolutionary may end up disappointed by the results.

Of course that’s not to say that there aren’t some really good examples of charities using new technologies in creative ways to raise money, but technology is not the be-all-and-end-all.

Last week saw the announcement of a new scheme to create a flexible, online, mobile digital fundraising platform for the arts, heritage and culture sector.

The National Funding Scheme aims to enable visitors to arts, cultural and heritage sites to donate using their mobile phone via SMS, credit card or through a dedicated app. It hopes to capitalise on people’s desire to support an organisation instantly, during visits, rather than waiting until they have got home.

Henry Makower, managing director of Panlogic, the digital agency that has come up with the scheme, predicts it could raise £8m for the sector in its first year and £18m in its second.

Makower plans to set up a charity to run the National Funding Scheme, and expects to start trialling it with some organisations by March 2013, with a full launch due in 2014. He needs to secure the £600,000 start-up funding by September to develop the system. From then on he expects the system to be self-funding by charging organisations 3 per cent of the donations to manage the admin costs. Organisations will also be able to purchase the data collected by the platform about people who have made donations to them.

He said: “The funding landscape is changing and, whilst there are still grants from the centre, arts organisations need to urgently reconsider all options to build for the future.”

And he’s right. Arts Council England cut funding to more than 200 organisations in 2011 and the organisation itself has had its budget reduced by 11.8 per cent over the next four years.

Unsurprisingly the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who attended the launch event, is supportive of the project, describing it as “an example of a private sector initiative that understands the needs of the sector, and has the potential to encourage much wider giving as one of the ways to make the sector more sustainable”.

More praise for the project comes from Lord Smith of Finsbury, chairman of the Environment Agency, who described it as “an idea of genius” and has agreed to be the new charity’s patron.

This all sounds very appealing from a fundraiser's perspective – more donations, more data. But what about for the potential donor – will it really be easier to register and donate through this new platform than to pop a few coins into a collection box on the way out?

As a visitor I’m not convinced I would be keen to hand my details over to every organisation that asked me. I’m more than happy to give a cash donation as I leave, but like most people I already get too many emails and am reluctant to open myself up to more, even if there are opt-outs, especially if it’s somewhere I am unlikely to visit again.

Once the novelty of digital giving wears off, the public will start to be pickier about who gets their precious details. For example I would probably be happy to hear from Chelmsford Museum (my local one – refurbished a couple of years ago and well worth a visit if you’re in the area), but not from the Jorvik centre in York - again very good, but I’m not likely to visit again for at least ten years and do not really care about what they're up to.

Of course I hope this new platform is a success and does provide a new income stream for arts organisations.  But they should be wary of assuming that technology is the holy grail. Personally I’m a sucker for anyone dressed up in a silly outfit speaking in ye olde Englishe. It would be a shame if in a few years time there just signs asking us to click and donate and no eccentric volunteers giving the place character while asking for donations.


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