Former investment banker Peter Sweatman recently launched Charity Technology Trust (CTT), a philanthropic venture that he hopes will boost the fundraising powers of charities through technology

When and how did you first start working for charity?
I started devoting time to Barnardo's in 1994 just after my mum died. I formed the Young Professionals fundraising committee while I was working for JPMorgan. In a very clichéd way I felt that the sector had lost a big supporter in my mother, who gave lots of her time to charities. I wanted to do something.

Charity and technology are not an obvious pairing - when did you first realise that technology could play an important role in charity work?
In early 2000, I started to engage some of the large UK charities with my ideas for online fundraising, initially via raffles. I saw a sector, the same size as agriculture, whose 2,000 top entities raise £11bn a year using similar techniques that could be greatly enhanced by the right technology. I saw the potential to establish a centralised resource that could act for charities like their outsourced IT department, not for bespoke consulting jobs but for the production of useful tools that would increase the efficiency of their own operations.

How difficult was it to get the backing you needed to set up CTT?
Far from easy. I recall the heady days when boo.com and clickmango.com were funded with millions at the drop of a hat - it seemed like anyone talking half sense could get money for a technology plan. I had two problems - I was asking for donations in excess of £50,000 for which the donor received no returns except the good feeling that he/she was catalysing something important; and my first round was due to close in March 2001, when everybody went from feeling very, very rich, clever and successful to feeling not-quite-that-good.

CTT would not have started if it had not been for the strong support of two individuals who were willing to back me and my ideas at a very early stage - Peter Wheeler of the iFormation Group and Charles Dunstone of Carphone Warehouse.

In what ways do you think e-business and Internet technology can be put to charitable use?
Firstly, in communication: charities, their workers, supporters, volunteers and donors form communities that share information, needs, interests and activities. The Web is a natural medium for this communication and although there is some use being made of the Internet for this purpose, the potential for growth is huge. Secondly, in transaction: charities need to offer easy, hassle free and fun ways to give (either time or money) that fit with people's lives. If their supporters increasingly live over the Internet, then they should. Thirdly, in data management: charities and their stakeholders could get more from their relationships if more of the learning, expertise and information created by their interaction was recorded and made available to improve future contact.

Which sort of charities will benefit the most from CTT - the large multi-national ones or the small, nearly anonymous causes?
To gain critical mass we signed five of the top UK charities for our launch. These charities have the resources to show leadership to the sector. CTT raffle technology is priced on the basis of use - so charities that use it a lot pay more than those which use it a little. This pricing mechanism creates a level playing field in recognition that there are many smaller 'nearly anonymous' charities that do excellent work.

People may shop online for certain items, but what makes you think they are going to donate online?
Donations and raffle purchases fit the profile of ideal online transactions - they're fast, there's no physical fulfilment and the online experience can be more rewarding than the offline equivalent.

The 11 September terrorist attacks illustrates this very clearly. For example: Yahoo! had, by 20 September, raised more than $20m online for the American Red Cross. The American Red Cross raised over $1m online in 12 hours at a rate of one donation per second. And the Salvation Army estimates that $2m of the $4m it raised in the first days after the attacks was donated online.

Was it hard to convince charities of the value of using new technology?
Not difficult, just slow. I think that charities are very aware of the benefits of new technology and how they can help create efficiencies. The problem is that building the right system takes expertise, time and money and mistakes can be costly. The charity sector is very risk averse and so gaining their confidence has taken time.

By working for charity now, are you seeking redemption for 10 years working at an investment bank?
Charity is no purgatory and investment banking is no hell - although the latter is closer.

Seriously, as an ex-investment banker, there must be something in this for you, right?
Yes, there is. I feel fitter, happier, more balanced and fulfilled now than I felt in 10 years of investment banking. I have unearthed a 'job' that motivates me to the extent that it ceases to feel like work. There are risks, difficulties and challenges on the way yet the reward is worth more than money.

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This was first published in December 2001

 

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