Today marks the 25th anniversary of the creation and publication of UK Fundraising. A single web page, hand-crafted in HTML, full of information and links for those charity fundraisers in 1994 who were interested in the World Wide Web.
First, thank you for using it, whether this is your first visit or whether you’ve been using it, learning from it, contributing to it and/or advertising on it for most of the past quarter of a century.
Secondly, I’m immensely satisfied to have run the site commercially throughout the period, and to have built a business dedicated to supporting the fundraising and income generation activities of all kinds of charities dedicated to making a positive difference in the world. When there were about just 3,000 web hosts in the world, most of them belonging to universities, the charity sector and fundraising profession in particular had a presence on one of them. And one that has survived and thrived.
Thirdly, I’m fortunate in having spotted the opportunity to charities and social impact organisations of the web and digital tools early on. I’ve managed to make a business out of guiding many fundraisers in learning how to use the most significant set of communication channels which will impact their lives and those of all donors in our lifetime. UK Fundraising combines pre-digital and digital fundraising experience.
I’m curious if anyone else has not only run a for-profit or commercial website for 25 years non-stop, but also managed and led the company that runs it, as opposed to worked their way up to the senior role over time. And one that has published the content at no charge throughout, and one for a social good objective.
UK Fundraising and the beginnings of the digital world
If you’re new to UK Fundraising, let me put its achievements in some context. I have met experienced fundraisers who weren’t born when I started publishing the site. And I recognise that in 2019 a generation has grown up as digital natives, rightly assuming that news, learning and communities exist for whatever professional or personal interests they have.
It was not always so. Someone had to start first.
So, here’s a selected timeline for you.
1989: my first experience of email at a charity, working on a Volkswriter Deluxe II at Oxfam’s regional office in Headington, Oxford, enabling me to communicate with other Oxfam offices – and international offices. At Afghanaid the next year I got to experience international email (this was the era of dial-up) for the first time in the charity’s office in Peshawar, Pakistan. I worked out the better times of the day at which to achieve connection.
1993: AIFUND created – I created Amnesty International’s global email discussion list for fundraisers to share ideas and information, reducing the need for some fundraisers to travel internationally for fundraising. It subsequently inspired a Spanish-language version.
1993: Demon offered Internet access to the UK public for “a tenner a month”
1993: Introduction of Mosaic web browser
1994: UK Fundraising first published
1994: Marc Andreessen’s Netscape Navigator browser launched
1995: Direct Connection’s guide to Fundraising on the Internet, by Howard Lake, published
1995: First secure (SSL) online donations received by UK charities (FoE and Shakespeare Birthplace Trust)
1995: eBay founded
1995: Windows 95 launched
1996: FundUK – UK Fundraising’s email discussion list for fundraisers to share expertise created. After various transfers this finally morphed into this site’s Web-based forum, superseded itself our switch to social network forums such as the UK Fundraising group on LinkedIn.
1996: Howard Lake the first session on online fundraising at the International Fundraising Congress (IFRW then) in Holland, with an international dial-up line being installed next to the lectern minutes before I started. Live Internet demonstrations were not the norm.
1996: Nokia 9000 Communicator – the first mobile phone with Internet connectivity
1997: Comic Relief’s Red Nose Day used the web for the first time to promote giving
1997: Wifi invented
1997: Howard Lake co-presented the International Fundraising Congress’ masterclass on online fundraising
1998: Google founded
1998: UK Fundraising starts publishing updates daily
1998: PayPal founded
2000: JustGiving founded
2000: UK Fundraising starts publishing an email update
2000: Dot com bubble and crash
2000: Wikipedia founded
2000: Institute of Fundraising publishes its first website
2001: Mailchimp founded
2002: LinkedIn founded
2004: Facebook founded
2005: YouTube launched
2006: Twitter founded
2007: First Apple iPhone
2009: Microsoft launches Bing search engine
2010: Instagram founded
2013: UK Fundraising launches Fundraising Camp, its nationwide series of unconference-inspired events for fundraisers
UK Fundraising’s achievements
Looking back at a quarter of a century, these achievements and qualities spring to mind:
- the first web resource dedicated to professional charity fundraisers
- a resource that has remained free to access for a quarter of a century: charities have never had to pay a penny to access all of our content
- the site has been profitable since 1996, despite not charging for access
- entirely funded by advertising and commercial sponsorship.
- entirely self-funded – there were no startup grants (or awards) for digital businesses in 1994! And there was no family trust fund to fall back on, in case you were wondering.
- a resource that was always open to anyone who had something useful to share with fundraisers
- the publication has only ever been digital – and only digital. It was not a print publication that moved to or added digital to its approach.
- first blog network for fundraisers – from 2006
- first online community for all charity professional fundraisers
- we never used the phrase ‘e-fundraising’ about digital. We viewed online or digital as relevant and supportive of all aspects of fundraising – not just asking for gifts or transactions, but management, research, learning, connecting, professional development, innovation and recruitment.
- we avoid duplication of content – that’s what hypertext is all about: linking to related content.
- the site has remained independent in its tone
- it represents no-one but itself, but achieves a popularity and trust amongst many
- its independent stance means it can take a stance on matters of importance to the charity sector, especially so when the charity sector is threatened or hobbled by those with an interest in doing so
- the site is archived by the British Library
Regrettably we haven’t measured our impact. But we have enjoyed hearing about grants secured that had been learned about on our site – the first big one was £0.5m back in about 1998 when I was running digital fundraising courses at the University of Bristol; and other wins, including securing the donation of a new-build house for a charity respite centre, which the fundraiser told me they’d never have achieved had they not read about it on UK Fundraising.
We’re also proud of our approach to very low environmental impact, right from our launch. That was one of our founding principles and assumptions, that digital would produce scale and reach at very modest environmental impact. That said, perhaps our main environmental impact has been to encourage, indeed to assume, that people would use electronic devices to access our extensive digital information.
In 25 years we’ve:
- ordered only four print runs – a leaflet (to coincide with the Perfect Pitch event series) and business cards
- travelled by public transport to all events, client meetings and conferences, except for two journeys by car, and some shared lifts or taxis; and travelled on aircraft for five return journeys
- undergone only one branding exercise – and printing of three pop-up stands as a result, which we still use, 13 years later
- produced no branded pre-landfill rubbish – promotional pens, badges, giveaways, plastic gimmicks and bags, or other conference or event ‘swag’.
What next for UK Fundraising?
We still have many ideas for how to improve UK Fundraising, so expect more in the years to come. But we always welcome suggestions from our readers, advertisers and contributors. So suggest away!
For years we used to present some kind of gift or giveaway to mark our anniversary. I’m maintaining that approach. Having looked backwards, here is what I am looking forward to. I’m confident they’ll have a financial benefit to many charities and not-for-profit organisations.
We have two new developments, inspired by and building on UK Fundraising’s experience, to announce, or at least let you know are going live in 2020. Both are social enterprises. One aims to save charities substantial expenditure while generating new income to fund the training of fundraisers.
The other one has a more ambitious aim – to find and support people and products that stand a chance of generating massive new and sustainable income for charities and the wider for-purpose sector. You can read my whitepaper on my research, ideas and hopes for this area, kindly published by Advanced, to give you an idea of where I might be heading, together with some very supportive and smart people.
Thank you all for a rewarding and inspiring twenty five years, meeting and working with so many astonishing people making a remarkable difference to so many lives. I can’t promise another 25 years of UK Fundraising, but I can promise I’ll keep supporting the work of world-changing fundraisers as far as I am able. Thank you.
PS. Anniversaries are seldom genuinely interesting or stirring to anyone but yourself or your own organisation. I know I tell charities not to pay too much heed to anniversaries, unless perhaps their 100th or more – and Gurvinder Gregson reminded me of that! I’ve got no excuses for marking my anniversary, except to use it as an opportunity to say thank you.
Main image: Background photo created by rawpixel.com – www.freepik.com