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GoFundMe appeals are more popular than ever. How are established charities competing?

Charities big and small have gone online, and personal stories point the way towards attracting donors in their droves.

bobby g Source: BBC/YouTube

“Pick up the phone… give me the money.”

THE PLEA FROM Bob Geldof for people to donate money during Live Aid in 1985 resonated strongly with viewers. Alongside the images of those stricken by the Ethiopian famine were rock stars wowing crowds and direct demands for money.

Tens of millions were raised as a direct result of the concerts.

Over 30 years on, however, and times have changed considerably. Direct appeals still exist on our screens, but charities are beginning to rely on people phoning in donations less and less.

The ubiquity of people being online 24/7 has led the charity sector to explore the opportunities presented by fundraising through to the internet.

It is most certainly a useful tool to raise money but online fundraising is not without its pitfalls where charities are concerned.

“It’s a place to innovate”

Irish people donated €51 million to Concern last year. The global organisation provides humanitarian aid in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Sarah Martin, director of communications at charity Concern, told TheJournal.ie that there’s been a big shift towards digital at the charity in recent years.

“It’s become central to our fundraising strategy,” she said.

A recent appeal for aid in east Africa saw one quarter of all donations coming from online. While money donated through online is not strictly replacing other forms of fundraising just yet, Martin said that the method is “probably attracting new donors”.

Food shortage leaves thousands staring into the abyss Concern raises money to provide support to some of the world's poorest people. Source: Julien Behal PA Archive/PA Images

“Analytics allow us to reach out to people in ways that we haven’t done before,” she said.

She said that Concern was using online and social media to innovate how they attempt to attract donations.

“Direct mail targets an older demographic, but with snapchat we can look at much younger people,” Martin said. “With this platform we actually had teenagers send out these messages. They know how to talk to their audience.

For Concern, it’s important to create that emotional connection with people. Bring them on a journey with us. We have 45,000 followers on Facebook and 50,000 on Twitter. We’re building audiences all the time. For every channel we use, we’ll have a different tone and style.

Crowdfunding

When it comes to online fundraising, crowdfunding as a means of raising money has exploded in popularity in recent years.

In the space of seven years, an online fundraising platform has managed to raise over €2.7 billion for a variety of causes.

A quick look across social media feeds is enough to see that GoFundMes, or similar fundraising initiatives, are everywhere.

They range from the personal, to the community-driven, with hundreds of thousands of euro donated every day.

GoFundMe, and similar sites, have tapped into a generous public willing to give to worthy causes away from the traditional ways charities have raised funds.

Charities themselves are using these platforms but is this form of fundraising taking money away from these organisations, or is it adding more to their funds?

shutterstock_251616610 Source: Shutterstock/A. and I. Kruk

Martin said that Concern had experimented with crowdfunding in recent times, but wasn’t sure if it is an effective means of fundraising for bigger charities.

“We launched a campaign recently,” she said, “to see how it’d work for us”.

The charity enlisted the help of Galway chef JP McMahon through the crowdfunding site Generosity.com to raise money for a kitchen garden in Burundi.

She said: “We pushed it on a lot on our social media platforms. It was very good for brand awareness but not so good for attracting income.”

When it comes to crowdfunding through the likes of a GoFundMe, Martin says that these initiatives appeal to more people and are more successful when a personal story is told:

Crowdfunding works well on a peer-to-peer basis, such as when somebody’s friend set something up to raise money for a very specific cause. It works on that level. It remains to be seen whether it’ll work for bigger charities like ourselves. I think what we’ve learned is that you need keep the question you ask simple.

After a quick look on GoFundMe using the search term “Ireland”, it is clear what Martin means.

Among the top results is the €127,000 raised for a woman with a rare genetic condition called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and €115,000 raised for lyme disease sufferer Denise Ryan who needs money for treatment in the US.

Similarly, two campaigns to help provide treatment for cancer sufferers Emily Duffy and Brian Slattery has almost €180,000 between them.

GoFundMe is not just effective at raising money for individual cases, however. Smaller Irish charities have had success in using the platform to raise some much needed funds.

‘We work with nothing most of the time, so we’re used to it’

Joe Gormley is a member of the voluntary organisation Forgotten Horses Ireland.

The organisation rehomes feral horses in the Galway and north Clare area. These include horses that have been mistreated, neglected and underfed.

“We look after their immediate needs,” Gormley told TheJournal.ie. “And then we look at rehoming them.”

The charity provides rehabilitation for the horses, through veterinary care and reintroducing a good diet.

All of those involved with the charity are volunteers and, despite excellent support from the local community and volunteers, limited funds are an ever-present problem:

Funds are always limited. We basically work with nothing most of the time so you get used to it.

Money to pay for stabling, food and medical care for the horses is sought through a variety of means including cake sales, wreath sales as well as money provided from the Department of Agriculture.

During the summer, the charity will have around 30 horses at one time. To provide them with grazing areas that will help them recover, land is leased from local farmers.

For the first time earlier this year, the charity set up a GoFundMe page to pay for these grazing areas this summer.

forgotten horses Source: GoFundMe

“It’s been very effective,” Gormley said. “We’ve already raised over half of the money we needed for it.

It’s definitely something we’ll do again.

Alongside Facebook campaigns, this charity that is always faced with limited funding opportunities has embraced online as a means of raising funds.

A matter of trust

When it comes to online fundraising, the issue of trust is vitally important, and two-fold.

There is the general negative perception around the charity sector due to recent scandals such as at Console.

Console provided a range of services including a 24/7 suicide helpline, a suicide bereavement liaison service, and a suicide bereavement counselling service.

The charity was wound down last year after it emerged through an investigation by RTÉ that its founders spent money on personal expenses.

An audit found that half a million euro was spent on foreign trips, designer clothes, eating out and other expenses between 2012 and 2014 – while another half a million was spent on salaries and cars for CEO Paul Kelly and his wife Patricia.

Concern says that it’s incumbent on charities to show the utmost of transparency in the current climate.

Speaking on the launch of its annual report for 2016, its CEO Dominic MacSorley said: “As an organisation, we understand the crucial importance of maintaining the highest standards of accountability and transparency as we deliver our programmes across some of the world’s poorest countries.”

German Bundestag parliamentary session Source: Michael Kappeler/DPA/PA Image

Martin, the charity’s spokesperson, added that Concern aims to position itself as trustworthy was evident from its transparent financial reporting and accountability of funds.

The other bone of contention with online fundraising is data security.

“People need to know we’re keeping their details safe,” Martin said.

Our donors have to feel secure when giving their details and cards numbers.

The charity has created positions in data protection to this effect, and said that they have experimented with online platforms of collecting money to ensure they use the safest, and best, form of collection.

Digital first

When it comes to online, charities big and small have begun to experiment on how to tap into the potential of people’s generosity on the internet.

GoFundMes raise money for specific cases with people making an emotional investment in them in the process.

Charities have always raised money in various manners, and they’re adapting to this platform in particular to try to make this kind of appeal to people too.

In a charity sector where needs are endless and funds are limited, online is an effective, and relatively-new, way for charities to get their message out there and attract donors.

As Concern’s Martin put it, the future of fundraising is going one way:

There’s no doubt that, as time goes on, our strategy will be digital first.

Read: ‘Put a cost on his life’: The limited options facing Irish cancer patients when time is running out

Read: Family set up GoFundMe after Irishman found dead at Algarve holiday apartment

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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