Singapore-based online fundraising platform SimplyGiving is no Kickstarter or Indiegogo. Unlike its peers that help project creators crowdfund innovative ideas like smart vibrators or a pocket molecular sensor, the four-year-old firm is here for non-profit charities.
It all started in 2010. Back then, online fundraising had just started to make waves in UK and Australia. It showed itself in events such as London Marathon and Australia’s City2Surf.
Users can set up their own pages and raise funds for a particular charity or cause. However, the spirit of fundraising has very much remained offline, tin can in the hand of a street canvasser, in Asia.
“We found that there was nothing exciting happening in this space across Southeast Asia and the wider region,” said Kristofer Rogers, CEO, SimplyGiving, adding that the region values local understanding, when it comes to supporting non-profits. He had joined the venture in 2012, as a former Co-founder of GoFundraise, an Australian online fundraising website.
The first version of SimplyGiving was launched in 2011, with 30 charity partners in two countries. The second version was released a year later. As of mid-2013, it had increased its client base to more than 286 charity partners in 16 countries, including Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, and ACTIVE Networks. It is now working to roll out the third version this month.
2013 was one of its best years; the firm broke its own record and collected more than S$1 million (US$796,000) in donations in the year alone.
Raising funds to raise funds
In early 2011, the company secured S$1.2 million (US$955,000) in funding from undisclosed investors. At the moment, it is looking to raise another S$2 million (US$1.6 million) with up to 20 per cent equity available. “… I’m happy to say we’re already 30 per cent subscribed, confirming a current valuation of S$10 million (US$8 million),” added Rogers.
He continued that he is looking for investors who can bring both, working capital and experience to the table. “The important thing, however, is to maintain and accelerate our rapid growth to deliver a great return,” he said.
With a team of seven scattered across offices in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong, the firm is looking to use the funds to launch into new markets such as Indonesia and the Philippines.
In addition, it will also focus on developing an improved mobile experience, which will allow more people to fundraise. In the coming month, SimplyGiving will be working on introducing responsive theming to the website.
“This is very important in a region where mobile internet already surpasses desktop access to the web,” he said. Consumers in Southeast Asia were reported to have purchased 14.8 million smartphones in the first three quarters of 2013. Furthermore, desktop traffic in the region has seen a significant decrease of 5.5 percentage points between September 2012 and March 2013, as shown in a presentation conducted by comScore.
How does a for-profit company help non-profit organisations raise donations? Does SimplyGiving take a cut from the very people it is trying to help?
While the startup applies a five per cent service fee across-the-board on donations, it has recently adopted a ‘freemium’ model. This means that non-profit organisations can register and use basic tools for free. Corporates, however, can sign up and pay to enable corporate social responsibility (CSR) and allow employees to raise funds for their favourite charities.
According to Rogers, the company has not broken even yet. It is aiming to become profitable Q3 2014.
The Asian fundraiser/donor
He added that while there has been a market for ‘event’ fundraising, which includes climbing mountains or jumping out of planes to raise money for charity, Asians are more inclined to give to a cause and support local projects with measurable outcomes.
In addition, there have been more donors in Asia as well, even though trust has always been an issue when it comes to making donations online. This “seismic shift”, he added, is the result of an apparent surge of e-commerce usage in Asia. “It’s now commonplace to shop for goods and services online, so donating online is becoming increasingly common as well,” he said.
When asked about the benefits of moving online for a non-profit, Rogers said that online fundraising can help these organisations reach more eyeballs. “Typically,” he explained, “the cost per dollar of fund-raising through traditional methods such as face-to-face donor acquisition or Gala events is 50 cents or more.”
He further noted, “You can only knock on so many doors, but when you have someone fundraising for you online, it’s easy to share via social networks and reach like-minded people who are likely to click through and support the campaign.”
However, when it comes to making donations or gift-giving, Asians are often thought of as people with a penchant for a more personal touch. The simple act of giving money in person directly is considered more sincere than giving through another channel. How can SimplyGiving then help these people — who might not feel comfortable donating money online — make informed decisions?
“With regards to the myth of Asian’s rather giving in person, the demand for online giving is actually being driven by the donor. Non-profits are scrambling to get online because this is where potential donors are now communicating and researching prior to making an informed giving choice. Needless to say, a lot of the online success is being driven by a younger audience who ‘get’ technology. There will always be a place for major gifts and a more traditional form of philanthropy.”
The startup has also introduced leaderboards for companies fundraising for a cause. This increases competition between the employees and gets them to raise even more money.
“If donating involves more than one click — we’ll lose donors,” said Rogers, adding that one of the biggest challenges faced by the firm is to find an online payment solution to simplify the process of giving.
Donors are allowed to choose from 100 currencies, and multiple common credit cards as well as payment methods like UnionPay, eNets, AliPay and bank transfers.
Users can also choose to donate with PayPal, even though Singaporean residents will no longer be able to give to foreign charities. Rogers wrote in an official blog post last April, “This change only affects Singapore residents wishing to donate to fundraisers overseas. It’s important that we adjust to changes in legislation to provide a safe and enjoyable giving experience for our online community of fundraisers, donors and nonprofits.”