Charity.ca aims to change the way people give

Charity.ca, a new online enterprise founded by well-known Canadian philanthropist Richard Ivey and Internet incubator NRG Group, is hoping that it can build enough momentum in the coming months to get a sizeable number of Canadians to change the way they...

Charity.ca, a new online enterprise founded by well-known Canadian philanthropist Richard Ivey and Internet incubator NRG Group, is hoping that it can build enough momentum in the coming months to get a sizeable number of Canadians to change the way they go about selecting the charities they support.

Soft-launched last May, Charity.ca is focusing its efforts on bringing more potential donors to its site, where they can review original articles on a wide range of causes, get tips on how to make wise donations, search a national ‘in memoriam’ obituary database, and make secure online charitable donations.

The goal is to simplify the charitable gift-giving process as much as possible for donors, says Rosanne Caron, Charity.ca’s vice-president of marketing. ‘If it’s easier for the donor to find information and to make a donation, then it could mean more money going to the charities overall.’

Citing the fact that about $50 million in memorial tributes are made in Canada each year, Caron says the figure ‘could be much larger than that’, if not for the fact that many people don’t follow through on their intentions, either because it’s inconvenient or because they don’t know which charities they should support.

Backed by a major on- and offline brand advertising campaign, developed by Toronto-based Brandworks International, which broke last month, Charity.ca is also in the process of trying to attract more charities to sign on.

According to Caron, approximately 300 Canadian charities are currently registered, with more than 1,500 others not yet having completed Charity.ca’s extensive registration process, which includes a requirement that the charities provide detailed financial information about their organizations.

Although undeniably a commercial venture, Charity.ca delivers a useful service to the charities that register, according to Caron, who joined the operation in August after leaving her post as vice-president of marketing at Canoe.ca in April.

She says that applies, in particular, to the vast number of small and mid-sized non-profit organizations across the country that have limited operational resources to spend on raising money.

‘Charities are joining Charity.ca because they see it as a means to expand their donor base and to increase the level of donations they receive,’ she says. ‘It’s seen as being supplementary to the other fundraising efforts that they have in place.

‘With the small charities in particular, they have very little information on their donors, so they’re really not in a position to be proactive in terms of understanding that there are opportunities to get donors to give more frequently and tap into what it is that donors are interested in.’

The fact that such organizations can turn to Charity.ca to develop an online presence on their behalf in return for an 8% transaction fee per online donation, is especially appealing to many, Caron says.

Mary Jardine, executive director of the Parkinson Foundation of Canada, one of the charities registered on Charity.ca, agrees, although she acknowledges that some donors could potentially be offended by the notion that a portion of their online donation is being diverted to a profit-focused business. She points out, however, that, in comparison with such traditional fundraising tools as direct mail or special events, Charity.ca’s fees are more than acceptable.

‘What Charity.ca charges is a fee for service and should be looked at as a cost of raising funds,’ she says. ‘Just like with direct mail or special events, there is a very distinct cost to raising money through those channels. It costs money to raise money, no matter how you slice it.’

All the same, she stresses that she does not foresee the day that any form of online fundraising initiative will supersede the foundation’s other methods of direct appeal. Rather, she says, it can provide a relatively inexpensive means of attracting donations from people who might not otherwise be making such a gift.

‘The traditional methods of raising funds are all there and will continue,’ she says. ‘It’s our responsibility, though, to give people as many choices as possible to make a contribution, especially since the competition for the donor dollar is just enormous in Canada right now.’

Christine Featherstone, executive director of the Toronto-based ABC Canada Literacy Foundation, is of a similar mind, stressing that while she doesn’t believe that Charity.ca or any other form of online donating will ever replace traditional fundraising methods, it is a welcome addition to the mix.

Even at that, she says there is still a long way to go to build public awareness that donating to charities online is an option. ‘I’ve worked in this sector a long time,’ she says, ‘and it was only a few years ago that you could encourage people to donate using a credit card over the telephone. It takes a while for the public to adapt to different styles of giving.’

While acknowledging the challenge of getting people to change their well-ingrained habits, Caron is hopeful that Charity.ca will succeed in appealing to a wide range of donors, including many who aren’t currently frequent givers.

‘We believe we’re tapping into a market that exists but that hasn’t reached its full potential [for] a number of reasons that we’re addressing with Charity.ca,’ she says. ‘There’s a real upside there for the charities.’