Q&A with GiveStar Founders Tom Montague and Alex Coleridge

Tom Montague and Alex Coleridge, Founders of GiveStar

Business Leader sat down with the Founders of GiveStar, a platform that allows charities to access technology that lets them fundraise more efficiently. GiveStar has helped bring contactless donating, charity ticketing, and live streaming fundraising options to charities. Recently, they have launched its latest innovation: ‘Tap on Phone’, which turns smartphones into portable, secure contactless donation points for charities.

Tell us about your background? How did you meet each other?

We have known each other since we were eight years old. We’ve always wanted to work on a project together that we knew made a tangible and positive difference to the world.

It was only after we had finished our respective degrees at university that we decided we had the combined skills to create the foundations of what is now a flourishing startup in GiveStar.

How did you end up in this niche sector?

In our mid-twenties, we began working on an after-hours project – a campaign to help tackle homelessness in London.

It was during this campaign that we noticed the small role that technology was playing in the third sector and the effects the growing cashless society was having on these organisations.

We realised there was a great opportunity to bring technology to a sector that really needed it.

We always had a passion for charity and we both knew from an early age that we wanted our work to mean something and to bring a positive change to people’s lives. We believe that we’re doing this now by helping to implement innovative, new technologies for charities.

What was your inspiration for starting Givestar and what are your plans for the company?

Together we saw that the world was quickly turning into a cashless society and the subsequent major impact that this was having on charities’ fundraising abilities.

The work that charities and the third sector do is more important than ever given the context of the pandemic, and it was clear the sector needed new tools to help reinvent how charities and consumers fundraise. That led us to launch what is now GiveStar.

We’ve created a number of fundraising tools over the years, but as for our plans for the future, we have just launched our Tap-on-Phone technology that is changing how people donate to charity and removing the upfront costs that charities have to incur for hardware purchases.

Tap-on-Phone transforms smartphones into contactless point-of-sale devices. This means that charities can empower more people to fundraise, as they no longer have to rely on costly Point of Sale (PoS) devices, and can simplify the onboarding process for fundraisers through an app that is instantly downloadable, and simple and secure to use.

We recently piloted the technology with the British Red Cross, and by using Tap-on-Phone technology for the first time alongside cash donations to raise funds for the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal, the charity raised 30% more via contactless donations than it otherwise would have. We’re continuing to see more great results like this as charities look to not only adopt with their community fundraisers but scale to wider networks of supporters.

What impact has the pandemic had on the charity sector?

A key change in the pandemic was the huge adoption of cashless payments by necessity. Coupled with people having to stay home, it created a tough situation for charities who often rely on face-to-face interactions or events and cash donations.

At the same time, charities often have limited resources in terms of people and funds, meaning they often can’t fork out for expensive PoS hardware to digitise their fundraising.

The Charity Commission Survey conducted research throughout the pandemic that highlighted just how severe the impact of Covid was on the sector:

  • Over 90% of charities experienced some negative impact from Covid-19
  • 60% saw a loss of income
  • 40% dipped into their financial reserves

It’s clear the sector needs a low-cost, easily accessible way to raise funds beyond the current solutions such as online donation pages. We saw this as a call to action to roll out our virtual events opportunities as well as expand our reach to ensure that charities, irrespective of location, were beneficiaries of GiveStar technology.

How do you feel the charity sector is benefitting from digital technology?

Where to begin! Technology continues to boom throughout the UK startup space with a keen eye-focussed on the growth in FinTech.

However, few are focused on the opportunities this creates for the third sector by creating new avenues for donations, whether that is through cash or eventually other emerging technologies such as Cryptocurrency and NFTs.

The knock-on benefits include greater convenience for charities and consumers, better use of resources, more time available to grow or strategise, more access to new or previously unreachable fundraisers and more.

What were the challenges in adopting digital technology to the charity sector?

As with anything in the third sector, the cost is the greatest barrier. Charities work to the slimmest of profit margins and ensuring the cost of operations is as minimal as possible is a daily challenge.

Coupled with the challenge of the upfront costs of running, purchasing & insuring hardware used by the fundraisers can often be the biggest deterrent to the investment in a more digital approach.

We understand this struggle and make it our goal to ensure that GiveStar technology is affordable for all sizes of charities within the sector.

Also, charities need to provide a format for fundraising that all levels of technology expertise can use with confidence. That is another hurdle that we had to overcome when we were designing the app for our Tap-on-Phone launch.

We like to believe that the benefits of digital technology can be easily demonstrated to even the most anti-tech advocate.

With the growth of contactless, a growing cashless society and a need to enhance the accessibility and ease of fundraising, technology is helping to pave that road for charities.

What does the future of the third sector look like to you?

Even since launching in 2018, we’ve been truly amazed at the opportunities and technology that have come into action in the third sector and the positive impact that it has brought.

Our mission is to help charities step confidently into a new world of digital, cashless fundraising by empowering their fundraisers with the simple tools they need to unlock more donations than ever before.

We are already doing this, and in the future, we hope to see the third sector further embrace fintech technologies, and also help roll out new fintech solutions to the sector as new technologies emerge.

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs in the same space?

Innovate! Look for gaps and areas for improvement in the charity sector and be that change. A lot of time it’s extremely easy to stifle your own creativity but we all know that feeling of having a lightbulb moment, not acting on it and then seeing it recreated or brought to life by someone else.

Grow your network! The third sector is an incredibly creative space and the next big innovation could come from a chance meeting or from a place you least expect. Keep your eyes and your ears open for chances to grow your network.

Test Test Test! Trialling your product, even in its infancy, is crucial. See how would-be users, friends and even family react and engage with it, what they like, dislike and what they would improve.

Listen and learn, never take feedback personally and always see the opportunity to enhance your idea to make it even better!

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