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Interview with Virgin Money Giving’s Executive Director

Virgin Money Giving runners
Interview with Virgin Money Giving’s Executive Director

Virgin is the new sponsor of the London Marathon and Virgin Money Giving its new entry to the online fundraising sector. The online donation service aims to offer lower charges to charities and help grow the total raised online for charities.

UK Fundraising’s Howard Lake met Jo Barnett, Executive Director of Virgin Money Giving, to find out more.

Virgin Money Giving's office

He asked her about Virgin Money Giving’s services, its pricing model, how much she thought it could expand the online giving market, whether it will partner with other major sporting events in addition to the London marathon, and whether cost was really such an issue for charities in selecting an online fundraising service provider.

Some of the questions had been suggested by other fundraisers and agency staff via Twitter.



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Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp.
  • stevenjandrews

    Thanks for this interview, Howard.

    I’m intrigued by what fundraisers think of this new entry to the online sponsorship/giving market.

    I guess most fundraisers will inevitably be interested in a lower cost supplier?

    But did anyone feel, like me, a bit irritated by this interview? What annoyed me was the condescending attitude of Virgin Money Giving to the existing suppliers. As Jo Barnett points out, the online giving market was worth £100m last year.

    And it seems to me that this remarkable figure is in no small part to many years of innovation, risk, loss-making and hard work by justgiving and bmycharity. So to come along, 10 years on, and say that ‘we can do it cheaper and better’ with slightly snidey accusations that the existing players aren’t cheap just irritated me . I’m sure that’s not very logical of me. These are companies that should be open to competition and able to deal with it… but does loyalty and admiration for what these companies have done count for anything in fundraiser’s minds? I’m interested.

    Call me a Thatcherite but I suspect that the expertise and entrepreneurial drive of the existing suppliers will win out in the end anyway. That’ll drive innovation more than a non-profit will be able to over the long-run. Not only that, but Virgin Money Giving seems to be primarily a marketing exercise for Virgin Money. Which makes me wonder whether they’ll have the stomach for a long-term fight and a commitment to offering great service to charities and donors? What happens, for example, if Virgin Money’s strategy changes in 8 years time and they’re no longer sponsoring the London Marathon?

    And on a practical note, I wonder whether Virgin Money Giving will really be cheaper. If their levels of gift aid take up, for example, aren’t as high as the existing suppliers, then there’s every chance that while they appear to be cheaper on the face of it, in reality they’ll cost charities in terms of lost revenue. Only time will tell.

    Anyway, this was supposed to be more of a question than an exposure of my own prejudices. So what do you think?

    Steve Andrews
    Director of Charity Services
    The Direct Marketing Group

  • SoP

    I think it’s good that Virgin Money Giving are highlighting the costs to charities.

    i think the fundraisers asking for sponsorship, and the people supporting them haven’t necessarily been aware that JustGiving etc take such a chunk of the money from what is raised.

    I remember when I read this last year from Alice Beer that I was surprised that she hadn’t realised that JustGiving took their share, and so I asked a few of my friends – many of whom i had actually sponsored in that way before – and they hadn’t even considered that all the money wasn’t going to the charity, Naive perhaps – but at the very least, this entrance by Virgin Money Giving means that supporters may be a bit more aware, and ‘shop around’ for the best deal for their chosen charity. I think within the sector, we tend to take for granted that the general public know a lot of things that we do, and then are surprised by their surprise at such matters.

    i must admit, this year, I’ve had a lot more people ask for sponsorship via BMycharity, and I’ve wondered whether that was because they have positioned themselves as having lower charges.

  • admin

    Do you really mean that Alice Beer, and some/a few/many people using Justgiving and similar sites assumed that the services were offered for free?!

    Secure online transactions available 24 hours a day, Gift Aid reclaims, customer support, and all the trained staff needed to run an operation – all on offer for the past nine years without anyone having to pay for any of that?

    I agree that many people don’t understand how charities really operate, but surely they question even for a moment just whom they were entrusting their credit card and personal details to? Some odd organisation that can survive on fresh air only, or a well-managed business that takes a comparatively small cut of the donation (and is in my view very open about its costs)?

    (Disclaimer – I know people at Justgiving, Bmycharity, Virgin Money Giving, AltaContact, CAF and other online donation providers but have no commercial links with any of them).

  • kevinkibble

    I agree with Steve Andrews in that I found the interview, or rather Jo Barnett, slightly irritating. I’m not sure it was just her attitude to the pricing models and functionality of justgiving or bmycharity, but also her conviction that association with the Virgin brand would be wholly beneficial to the area of online giving. Anyone traveling regularly on Virgin Trains or use Virgin Media might have some thoughts.

    And how do we feel as a sector aligning ourselves and our fundraising with an organisation that supplies and promotes credit cards and loans? I’m not sure how comfortably this sits alongside homelessness, child poverty etc.

    Competition is a good driver of innovation and I’m sure justgiving and bmycharity are not sitting around with their heads in their hands bemoaning their lot. I think Steve’s point about the long-haul is also well made and charities might be well advised to keep all their options open?

  • SoP

    I just don’t think people have even thought about it. My friends that I spoke to aren’t exactly unintelligent, but until they were actually asked the question, they hadn’t considered it.

    I think that’s why it’s good for the whole issue to be highlighted, for whatever reason.

    And just to follow suit: (Disclaimer – I DON’T know people at Justgiving, Bmycharity, Virgin Money Giving, AltaContact, CAF or other online donation providers and have no commercial links with any of them).


  • Steve_Bridger

    I agree with you, Steve (as you may have predicted). The tone rankled me, and is supported by the comparative information they have placed on their website.

    JG and Bmycharity work very hard (I know this to be true) to add value to the service provided to both charities, fundraisers, and donors. It’s not just about transactions and goes way beyond fundraising. The existing service providers are working hard to enable people to have conversations around the causes they support.

    My instinct also tells me that VMG will seek exclusivity around high profile events. I hope I am proved wrong.

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