"We Double Your Donation" yells the large banner headline at the top of the Big Give website, a fund raising push financed by the Reed Foundation to raise money for various charities across the UK.
Sounds good, you donate money to a charity and this other charity doubles that amount. So far so magnanimous. The fact that this story is being written by The Imp though should be more than enough forewarning that not everything is as it seems.
First of all The Big Give is not doubling your donation, the sponsors of the particular charitable groups are the ones doing that (if they actually have to do it at all). The Big Give is really just a glorified version of PayPal with a charitable slant. Their spokesperson said as much when we asked them.
The Big Give works in a number of stages. For the first stage, we'll call it "The Pledge", the participating charities, 94 of which are in the arts, asked those that were able, to pledge a certain amount of money so the charity could hit a pre-determined total, say £3,000.
If they hit that mark then the charity can move into the second "challenge" stage of the fund raising sprint. Once again they have to hit a pre-determined total (given the example above it would be £3,000 again), decided by the participating charity.
Every donation made during this stage is doubled but not by The Big Give or the sponsor. The doubling comes from the pledges made by members of the public in the first stage.
Only when that second amount is reached and the doubling up from the pledges runs out will the sponsors actually start chipping in and handing over any money.
But there's a catch. The process is all competitive so if some charities are better at raising money than others then the "sponsor" money will be exhausted and any further donations to the charity will not be doubled.
Looking again at the example above the charity would have to raise £3,000 in pledges, £3,000 in donations then a further £3,000 in donations from the public to unlock a theoretical £3,000 in match funds from the sponsor. So, that's £9,000 in public donations, not easy for the small to mid-scale to accomplish.
At the time of writing less than a third of the arts charities in The Big Give had reached their "challenge total". In fact the challenge phase was supposed to last five days, it started last Monday (6th December), but this deadline was extended without explanation for an additional two days on Friday evening.
Things start to become even more
dubious puzzling when you look at who the sponsor for the arts charities actually is. Arts and Business the organisation that, according to their website, "sparks new partnerships between commerce and culture" is the rich kid in the room stumping up the cash.
With a tagline like that it all sounds very aspirational, very positive. Apart from the fact that Arts and Business received, for the current financial year, more than £3Million in funding from, drum roll please, Arts Council England.
Yes, the funding monolith is funding an organisation to distribute money to those less fortunate than large scale bureaucracies in receipt of millions of pounds of public funding by setting up crazy fund raising challenges. Except, unless you beat the challenge, they're not giving you a penny.
Another problem with this debacle stems from the original pledges made to the charities. Because they are only pledges and not actual donations there is no guarantee, legal or otherwise, that the charities will actually receive the money pledged by members of the public.
The Big Give freely admit that they can do nothing to force people to give the money, especially if the charities in question did not reach their challenge total. Here in TheLab™ we would strongly encourage those that pledged money to actually hand it over, this is no time to come across all Scrooge like!
Both The Big Give and Arts and Business claim that the whole point of this process is to encourage those new to fund-raising to start tapping people for money. Other than providing the website however they don't actually do a whole lot to help you out. All of the fundraising heavy lifting is done by the charities themselves.
For the small to mid-scale when you have exhausted your mailing lists, your phone lists and your social media contacts there aren't a whole lot of other places to turn for help. You could always turn to ACE of course but they are apparently too busy giving millions of pounds to somebody else!
In fact The Big Give, in an email sent out to those who pledge money, specifically demands that you do not donate to the charity again through The Big Give. Apparently this is to prevent you from basically doubling your own pledge. It's not at all clear why any charity would care about that, money is money and as long as they get it why do they care how many times you donate or pledge?
Neither Arts and Business nor The Big Give could offer any reasonable explanation about that particular issue.
The Big Give also denied that their website and the tag lines they were using about doubling donations were misleading. The Charities Commission and The Fund Raising Standards Board did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Planned funding cuts by our new and completely bat sh*t crazy government are about to make charitable giving even more important for the small and mid-scale companies in dance.
If ideas like this are best that the mighty fund raising minds can dream up then a lot of companies are going to be in a lot of trouble. It would have been far simpler and more transparent if the sponsors had offered £5,000 to any participating company hitting a £5,000 donation target, for example, pledges be damned.
Another idea would be to keep the donation system open 24/7 365 days a year and let selected charities use it. Comparable sites like JustGiving charge a 5% commission on all donations made to participating charities.
It might also have been a good idea to exclude organisations like Birmingham Royal Ballet and English National Opera from such fund raising drives. Why? Well BRB for example received more than £8Million is ACE subsidy for the current year and they don't need the money. How's that for starters?
As for Arts and Business?
There is something undeniably perverse occurring when an organisation in receipt of millions of pounds in funding from ACE is then setting up ridiculous competitions and distributing that money to other organisations funded by ACE and coming across all magnanimous about it.
Perhaps that's why, after 2011, ACE will be kicking them to the kerb!