The SA Know How That Powers Fundraising At The 125th Boston Marathon

When GivenGain, a global leader in cross-border crowdfunding for non-profits, was named the official fundraising partner of the Boston Marathon recently, the team rightfully celebrated a stunning achievement 20 years in the making.

The story has much for South Africans to enjoy too. GivenGain was founded by two South African entrepreneurs and maintains its most active office in Stellenbosch, supporting SA charities with the help of a growing global army of fundraisers and cutting-edge platform innovations developed in partnership with global events like the Boston Marathon.

Breaking down barriers

It all started with a dream shared by brothers Johannes and Jaco van Eeden in 2001.

“As the sons of a pastor we wanted to put into practice what we were taught – that it is more blessed to give than to receive,” says Johannes, co-founder and member of the GivenGain Foundation Board. “Then, when Jaco needed to send money back home from the US, where he was working as a young graduate, we knew we had the beginnings of an idea.”

Co-founder and board member Jaco says the problem was one of cross-border remittance, something GivenGain excels at – accepting and paying out funds in multiple currencies globally, cost-effectively and securely. “Even now it is very expensive to go through the traditional routes of international bank or money transfers, and not always very secure if you use one of the ‘wallet’ apps. Back then, there were even fewer credible options. We needed to overcome national, technological and payment barriers to bring down costs and offer bank-grade security, and we’re proud to say that value proposition holds true to this day.” 

Of course, their innovation had to benefit those most in need – the charities that rely on individual donations to deliver their vital services. “We saw potential in helping ordinary people wanting to do good, by enabling them to give and fundraise easily for a cause of their choosing. And so GivenGain was born,” says Johannes.

Today, the GivenGain platform is registered as a non-profit foundation in Switzerland and has teams working from Stellenbosch, Villars-sur-Ollon in Switzerland, London and Detroit. Its service benefits charities in 81 countries and events in 29, supported by donors and fundraisers in 194.

Development curve

At the outset, GivenGain was an online donation platform for charities, relying on the charities themselves to fundraise through this new global donation channel and so increase their support base.

Next, the founders saw an opportunity to boost charities’ income by allowing donors to fundraise among their social, family and professional circles for their favourite charity – contributing much more than they could on their own, without being out of pocket personally.

“A typical fundraiser contributes 20 times more money to charity than an individual donor,” explains Jannie Smith, GivenGain’s Regional Manager – Sub-Saharan Africa. “Additionally, fundraisers raise awareness of the causes they support.”

Locals took to online crowdfunding quickly, individually and in the form of nationwide fundraising powerhouses like The Cows. While GivenGain has gone from strength to strength abroad, SA fundraisers still account for half of all fundraising projects. SA charities like CANSA and Qhubeka are among the platform’s top beneficiaries. 

GivenGain’s next reinvention came in 2018, when it launched ‘Teams’ – enabling companies, clubs, and even families and friends to fundraise around a common theme or activity – for any number of charities. 

Then, in 2018, it began working directly with mass participation events, teaming up with some of South Africa’s biggest events: The Two Oceans Marathon, the Cape Town Marathon and the Absa Cape Epic. 

“Event fundraising is an incredibly important source of charitable giving around the world,” says GivenGain’s Smith.

By proving the concept in South Africa, GivenGain was able to work with events across Africa and elsewhere, including the Victoria Falls Marathon, Uganda Marathon, Ireland’s Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon, and eventually Boston. 

Massive milestone

This year’s Boston Marathon is expected to host around 20,000 athletes in person, plus a further 70,000 joining virtually. The event supports more than 160 official charities, and many more supported by qualified and virtual runners. In 2019, runners raised a record $38.7 million, and in 2020 the all-time amount raised rose to $400 million. This year, with GivenGain’s help, organisers are aiming to make an even bigger impact.

“The Boston Athletic Association is proud to partner with GivenGain as the official fundraising partner of the Boston Marathon,” says Nicole Juri, B.A.A. Director of Development. “The Boston Marathon Official Charity Program has been a meaningful part of our race for more than 30 years, and we’re eager to expand its positive impact on the community with GivenGain.” 

“We’re very excited to partner with the Boston Marathon and to provide them and their hundreds of supported charities and many thousands of participating runners all over the world with a meaningful fundraising experience,” adds GivenGain’s Smith.

“It is great to think that the features and marketing blueprint developed with great South African events in mind has the seal of approval of big names like the Boston Marathon. Our unique white-glove service is now enjoyed by events in 29 different countries to date.

Big endorsement, big responsibility

The Boston Marathon’s decision to work with GivenGain is the strongest endorsement yet of the platform, and a huge morale boost for its 20th anniversary year. Some would say “mission accomplished”, but GivenGain knows there’s much more to do. 

The platform’s biggest impact is still felt in South Africa, where overseas donations are a huge source of funding for struggling local charities – which have rushed to embrace online crowdfunding to augment their donation income even before the pandemic. 

According to GivenGain’s own data, 30% of all the money that passes through the platform comes from donors outside South Africa giving to South African charities in hard currencies. 

The impact also goes further than that.

“We’re working with the Boston Athletic Association and event sponsor John Hancock to build expanded functionality and integrations that will benefit all charities and their supporters for years to come,” says Smith. “Our work in South Africa has shaped GivenGain for the world. Now, thanks to partnerships with Boston and other events worldwide, we’re looking forward to bringing new and improved features to South Africa in turn.”

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