Charity begins at home with JustGiving

JustGiving is helping UAE and Middle East charities raise more money by teaching them to engage more effectively with their digital audience.
Thomas Woolf, right, with Joseph, one of the Herd Boys that Sentebale supports with an education via night schools that follow these nomadic shepherds around the mountains of in Lesotho, South Africa. Courtesy Thomas Woolf
Thomas Woolf, right, with Joseph, one of the Herd Boys that Sentebale supports with an education via night schools that follow these nomadic shepherds around the mountains of in Lesotho, South Africa. Courtesy Thomas Woolf

Thomas Woolf is the mission chief in Dubai for JustGiving Middle East and Africa. JustGiving is an online platform that helps charities raise funds. Here, he describes the organisation’s activities in the region.

How did JustGiving come into being?

It was founded in 2002 by Anne-Marie Huby, who was head of Médecins Sans Frontières at that time, and Zarine Kharas, a human rights barrister. The two realised that the way people were typically collecting charitable donations was either via a sponsorship pledge form or the charity mugger situation where people were grabbing you in the street. They developed JustGiving, which gives people the ability to safely and securely donate [online] to a charity or cause that they care about. Since 2002, we’ve raised US$3 billion for charity and there are currently 12,000 charities that use JustGiving. Our Middle East and Africa office is split between Dubai and Cape Town and we got going in earnest here in May/June 2011.

Does charitable giving differ here compared to the UK?

GCC citizens are some of the largest donors in the world. Certainly on JustGiving our donations from the Middle East tend to be three times higher than the average donation from the UK. However, the converse of that is that we have the least number of people creating fundraising pages or creating events or taking part in charitable fundraising activities.

Can anyone in the UAE fundraise via JustGiving?

There are what you would call UAE national charities [seven charities recognised by the Islamic Affairs and Charitable Activities Department] and if you want to fundraise on the ground and hold a fundraising event and publicise that fundraising event and collect cash from people you either have to be one of the big seven charities or partner with one of those seven charities. So we have the likes of Dubai Cares and Al Jalila Foundation on JustGiving, who are part of that big seven.

But we are also an international company, so if someone here deeply cares about Cancer Research UK or the British Heart Foundation then they can use our Facebook widget. If that person creates a fundraising page and fundraised with JustGiving online, connecting with their community of expat friends and diaspora around the world, then they are not collecting money in the UAE because all of our processing is done in London. We raised over £50 million (Dh310.6m) with the Facebook widget last year.

How does JustGiving support UAE charities?

Our role in the UAE is to help transform and scale giving towards UAE charities. Organisations like Dubai Cares and Al Jalila Foundation are very forward-thinking; they understand the digital space but we are still helping them to learn from our shared experiences to scale their fundraising digitally because once someone has connected digitally with a charity they will give time and time again. We know that Dubai Cares is given donations now from the UK and Europe, and Al Jalila Foundation is getting donations from Saudi and Hong Kong. Before, these charities used to fundraise by doing an appeal in The Dubai Mall during Ramadan; now they get donations from around the world.

What about beyond the UAE?

With the smaller charities – and there are a lot of these in the Middle East and Africa region – we have to go back to basics and create a Facebook page or an effective Facebook page. We do a lot more for our charity partners in the Middle East and Africa then we would ever do in the UK. Without a Facebook page they can’t benefit from our giving widget, which essentially allows a charity to engage with its audience and receive donations via Facebook. The donor doesn’t have to leave Facebook to make a donation and if that donor wishes, a push notification will go to all of their friends saying what they’ve done and why they’ve done it. We know roughly that a Facebook “share” is worth about £8 to a charity.

Can you give an example?

Palestinian Charity Pace is raising money to send four teams of girls from Palestine to an international football championship in Norway. They were struggling to raise any money for their $120,000 goal. In the past six weeks they have raised $85,000 via JustGiving. We are slowly changing the game. We took a charity that was a very small, nascent organisation and absolutely transformed the way it engages with its audience. We are very good at helping big charities raise more money, but what we are even better at is helping small charities transform they way they operate and the way they engage.

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Published: May 21, 2014 04:00 AM


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